The sleek and glamorous way to go triple Dutch

Nederlands Dans Theater | Festival Theatre, Edinburgh& Playhouse, Edinburgh
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The Independent Culture

After 25 years as the creative force behind Nederlands Dans Theater, one of the world's most exciting and sleekly glamorous ensembles, Jirí Kylián has stepped down as artistic director. Yet there will be no overnight changes at NDT. For one thing, Kylián will continue to create work for the company (he is now "artistic advisor") but, more importantly, NDT has never been a one-choreographer outfit. As if to prove the point, NDT's 2 and 3 - the "youthful" and "mature" branches of the NDT family - opened the company's week-long Edinburgh Festival residency with a programme of work by other choreographers.

After 25 years as the creative force behind Nederlands Dans Theater, one of the world's most exciting and sleekly glamorous ensembles, Jirí Kylián has stepped down as artistic director. Yet there will be no overnight changes at NDT. For one thing, Kylián will continue to create work for the company (he is now "artistic advisor") but, more importantly, NDT has never been a one-choreographer outfit. As if to prove the point, NDT's 2 and 3 - the "youthful" and "mature" branches of the NDT family - opened the company's week-long Edinburgh Festival residency with a programme of work by other choreographers.

Principal among these is Hans van Manen, whose Solo, a breathtakingly bravura display so fleet-footed and quick-witted it is actually a trio, is given the kind of audacious performance by NDT2's men which only the truly gifted (and young) can give. To watch the powerful legs of Gustavo Ramirez Sansano slice though the air, the razor-edge precision of Amos Ben-Tal, or the way Mario Zambrano adds a whiplash-inducing head rotation to the end of his speed-of-sound spins, is to marvel at human capabilities.

The explosive energy and awesome technical prowess which underpins Solo is also at the heart of Ohad Naharin's Minus 16. A real crowd-pleaser, this crazed collection of mambo and cha-cha powered dance (really a Greatest Hits compilation of bits from other Naharin creations with added audience participation) only hangs together because the on-stage dynamic of this group is irresistible. It may not be great art, but when the razzle-dazzle is this good, who cares?

Youth isn't everything, as NDT3 demonstrate in their contributions to the evening - the slight, if enjoyable, cocktail party character studies of Paulo Ribeiro's New Age, and Paul Lightfoot's Small Moves. There is something almost primal about Lightfoot's slippery, twitchy, nervily idiosyncratic dance language. One can see traces of the circular sweep of Kylián kinetics, and the Mats Ek school of funny walks in his vocabulary, but Lightfoot is a rare original. You cannot second-guess him, yet his movements never seem awkward or contrived and in Small Moves the seasoned dancers of NDT3 (and especially the captivating Sabine Kupferberg) lend a ripe pliancy and gravitas to his melancholy setting of Vivaldi's Le Humane Passioni.

Lightfoot also provided the central item in NDT1's programme with the Czech Philharmonic and Sir Charles Mackerras at the Playhouse ( Speak for Yourself, an achingly lovely suite of solos and duets echoing the "voices" in Bach's The Art of Fugue and performed in a downpour) but it was the combination of these mighty forces which galvanised attention. Two classic Kylián creations performed by NDT and accompanied by the Czech Phil and Mackerras, its principal guest conductor. The hype was considerable; for once, it was fully justified.

Against John Macfarlane's bleak backdrop of a watery, wasted landscape, and set to some Britten , the dancers in Kylián's Forgotten Land flail and dive and rail against their fate. These are neither earthy peasants nor the raggedly dispossessed, but elegant figures in long skirts and billowing shirts, the three central couples symbolically bold in black, red and white ensembles. Their dance is one of grief tinged with hope, of keening women with supple backs and couples who cling to one another in despair and in the support of precision-engineered doublework. Cora Bos-Kroese as the woman in black is particularly lovely here, winding her long limbs through the poetry of Kylián's inventions with innate grace.

Supremely musical in structure, the piece is heart-stopping under normal NDT conditions; performed here with 100 or so musicians, the effect was almost overpowering as dancers surrendered to the music.

The same sense of give-and-take was apparent in Kylián's 1978 setting of Janácek's Sinfonietta. If any orchestra can call this music its own, surely the Czech Philharmonic can. With its distinctive bright, silvery strings and a honeyed warmth underpinning the brilliance of the brass (whose members filled the stage boxes, the better to let their clarion call ring out around the packed Playhouse auditorium) the dancers seemed buoyed by the massive sound. The great leaps which echo the exultant brass fanfares were more expansive, the seamless duos and trios which percolate with little folk motifs appeared more fleetly articulated, the rare moments of stillness and reflection charged with a barely contained energy. In Kylián's Sinfonietta the choreography and music seem as one, and at these Festival performances it flowed through NDT's astonishing dancers like a life force.

Jenny Gilbert returns next week

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