Nederlands Dans Theater 2

Edinburgh Festival Theatre and touring

Pproduction photo from Sleepless

It's hard to imagine the English National Ballet gyrating in gold lame ruffle skirts whilst sporting candy coloured replicas of the Queen's hat collection. Which is just one of the reasons why having a ballet-trained but non-ballet-centric national dance company bent on exciting young audiences about dance seems like such a great idea.

NDT2 is the Netherlands Dans Theater's young company, comprising 15 dancers between the ages of 17 and 23, before many of them blossom onwards and upwards into the NDT1 company. Although rooted in their Dutch identity, accompanying Queen Beatrix (complete with hats) on her state visits, the dancers are recruited from all over, including Spain, Brazil, Ireland, Korea, Israel and Russia.

They have quite a fan base in Edinburgh (which becomes evident during the post-show Q&A), but it's my first encounter with NDT and I'm excited by the programme's temptations of melding classical discipline with a contemporary flavour. The eclectic trio of pieces which follows certainly does not disappoint on either count, being 'sort of like a starter, main course and dessert', if you believe Artistic Director Gerald Tibbs.

Sleepless served up a stark and contemplative opening, as a solo female dancer tentatively crept inside the world of her shadow. Using a strip of white backdrop, sliced with openings, the ensemble emerged to a cut glass score permeated with metallic crashes and twists, adapted from Mozart's Adagio in C minor by Dirk Haubrich. The dancers in accordance, clad in lithe dark colours, swapped between fluid rolls and discomfiting jerks. Quietly playful but with controlled energy, Sleepless was less dramatic than what followed, nevertheless an astute piece of programming which provided a dignified build up to the rest of the evening.

Choreographed by partner duo Lightfoot Leon, Sleight of Hand created a Tim Burton style world of dark elegance and eccentric unease. To the suspenseful pulsing of Philip Glass's 2nd Symphony, a couple emerged, lost inside what seemed like a nightmare human forest, framed by two figures raised on impossibly tall stilts, a woman in tumbling folds of black Victorian corseted dress, a man in a weighty frock coat and ruffles. Soon they were joined by the faun-like Francesco Vecchione who cavorted bare-chested, and three gentlemen in black overcoats, alternating between wild trios and pulling unsettling facial contortions. Although saturated in suspense and atmosphere, not an awful lot developed throughout the dance, and there was an odd dichotomy in the strong sense of character and setting but absence of any narrative. Still, for anyone with a soft spot for macabre fairy tales this piece was enough to thrill.

And then came the hats. Chapeau was Jiri Kylian's tribute to the hat collection of Queen Beatrix, prepared as a surprise for her 25th Jubilee (and to think poor Elizabeth II had to settle for a tube line). Prince's 'Musicology' was the first track the ensemble emerged to, with exaggerated lyric miming and plenty of attitude in their gold ruffle skirts. Bonkers surrealism and tight ensemble gave credence to the physical comedy, as the company of men scuttled to make a human sofa on the line 'Honey don't make me sleep on the couch'. Ending with a parodied Hawaiian fan dance with larger than life hot pink fans led by NDT veteran, guest dancer Sabine Kupferberg, this bold piece showed off a talented and versatile company capable of injecting silliness and slapstick into their ballet disciplined toes.

Pater Lathan reviewed NDT2 at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

The tour continues to Bradford, High Wycombe and Cardiff. The programme may vary from this one.

Reviewer: Lucy Ribchester

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