Nederlands Dans Theater 1, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Nederlands Dans Theater 1 are one of the world's most popular companies. And I don't get it. True, there is a high gloss to the dancing and the movement is sleek and smooth. But there is a lack of contrast, everything polished. So many NDT1 productions have an ironic, symbolic quality, dancing in inverted commas.

The company's modern identity was shaped by the choreographer Jiøí Kylián. He stepped down in 1999, but has two ballets on this programme. In Wings of Wax, an upside-down tree hangs over the dancers' heads. A spotlight circles it. The dancers emerge from the shadows, and vanish back into the gloom.

This design-heavy, emphatically lit production is characteristic Kylián. The steps are less typical, dancier than many of his works, with bolder line and greater contrast. As women are lifted, they flick their feet through fast little kicks. They snap out of supported turns, ending in strong positions. But that clarity blurs. The music switches from baroque to the 20th century and back again, Biber to Cage and Glass. The dancers glare and gesticulate, clapping hands or frantically waving them.

If Wings of Wax slides towards meaningless symbolism, Signing Off sets up camp there. Created by NDT1's house choreographers Sol Leó*and Paul Lightfoot, it's full of billowing fabric and un-nuanced dancing. The curtain goes up on a woman already dancing, hitched into a high extension. A strip of cloth descends and rises, hiding and revealing her as she moves. Three frowning men dance with flat aggression. Dressed in black, Georgi Milev stalks threateningly through, finally carrying one of his colleagues off.

Tar and Feathers, another Kyliá*work, ends the evening on a low note. There's an onstage piano, balanced on stilt legs. Perched on a platform, Tomoko Mukaiyama plays modified Mozart. The dancers are grouped around a bundle of bubble wrap. The dancers roar like lions, crumple more bubble wrap, or sit at the edge of the stage, legs dangling.

Two women circle a man, who sinks into a squat to partner them. They tangle their way through a trio – one woman balanced on each knee, legs waving in the air. The piece ends with a slow exit. Most of Tar and Feathers looks unfocused. There are bursts of comedy but it sinks into confusion. The dancers are still sleek, but even that doesn't put this across.



Touring to 23 April

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