NDT2, Sadler's Wells, London

Frequent tours of Britain have built a following for this junior branch of the Netherlands Dance Theatre. NDT2 comprises 16 dancers early in their careers, apparently (from the programme biographies) between late teens and mid-twenties, mostly with some previous experience. Given the fierce competition to join the main NDT company, and that some of these NDT2 aspirants can hope to make the transition, their performing standard is high.

But handsome is as handsome does, and for me what they perform does not present them fully as theatrical artists. By coincidence, three days earlier I saw a programme in Paris where the young hopes of the Ballet de l'Opéra, about the same age as NDT2, not only showed brilliant technique and style but also came over far more distinctively as individual personalities. They had the material to permit this: classic showpieces and a couple of really lively new ballets.

NDT prefer modernism, but only one of their first-night works made them appear lively entertainers. That was Johan Inger's Dream Play, framed in a neat "real life" situation between a lonely man and the smart woman who ignores him. In between, four kilted men interrupt their stamping ensembles when seduced by the attractions of two women - or probably two aspects of one, gentle Marthe Krummenacher and aggressive Parvaneh Scharafali. An adaptable wall and the first half of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring combine with Inger's choreography and the committed dancing to rewarding effect.

But even the famed Jiri Kylian has come up with a weird bit of choreography for them this time, called 27'52". Preparing and making it - from planning and composition right through to studio photography - is calculated to have taken 4,419 hours, but it is performed and viewed in 27 minutes and 52 seconds.

Great; but that's all. We might hope for some lingering effect in our imagination. No way, unless you count time wondering, in vain, what was the point. Solos, duets or larger groupings for six dancers are incoherent, just separate incidents. They include the topless episode Kylian seems fond of nowadays (that must have kept down the 438 hours of preparing and making costumes).

There's some unintelligible speech incorporated in Dirk Haubrich's new score, based on two themes by Mahler (629 hours to make it, plus 15 hours research and 46 hours voice recordings). Kylian himself provided the "concept décor" - cloths to hide behind, or be tugged across the stage upon. No doubt he also has some concept of what it's meant to be about, but he ain't letting on.

Two short works by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon had too many points of similarity to 27'52" for comfort. The Schubert music for Subject to Change, and Marthe Krummenacher's vulnerability in a little white shift, surrounded by pushy men in black, suggests they intended a kind of Sex and the Maiden.

Alternatively, judging by the time spent rolling, unrolling and turning floor coverings, it may be seen as the first ballet about carpet laying. In Shutters Shut they have two dancers point, twist or jab their hands and pull faces to a poem by Gertrude Stein. Ingenious, but is that enough?

Comments