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Nederlands Dans Theater's Shadow's Whispers could have Spoken Louder

by Helma Klooss
March 3, 2021
Helma Klooss is a Netherlands-based dance writer and festival organizer. More about her dance festivals can be found at www.danskaravaan.nl, www.danskaravaan-educatief.nl and www.stranddans.nl
In these global pandemic times many of us have longed for more online performances by Nederlands Dans Theater. Their latest one, Shadow's Whispers, on February 15 featured the world premieres "From England with Love" by Hofesh Shechter and "Baby don’t hurt me" by Imre and Marne van Opstal.

Nothing is more British than blue school uniforms with skirts, shorts, jackets, striped ties and padded backpacks, the like NDT's ten dancers were costumed in for "From England with Love".

The ballet was set to music partly composed by Shechter and combined with choral music by English composers Edward Elgar, Thomas Tallis, Henry Purcell and William Monk. It was built on ensemble dances and began with a heroic moment. Dancing to the severe composition "Nimrod" by Elgar, the dancers lifted their arms very slowly, opened them and then had their right hands moving up and down crossing their hearts. The group stayed close together while their arms then began to wave about in all directions.

Stage fog appeared to surrounded the dancers as rain and thunder audio effects were heard. The homogenous group unfolded and danced around, three of the dancers rolled on the floor and were pulled up by others like survivors of a natural disaster.

After this serious start the piece became more cheerful, graceful and harmonious while. To Tallis' "If you love me" the dancers traveled over stage, investigating rhythmical patterns and finished in slow motion in a grand circle with streams of light from above.

That calm was then broken by sinister sounds and wild dancing by the ensemble.
The dancers moved individually, skipping, reclining, turning, crawling and clowning around. Gone was the restrained English attitude. The uniforms were untidy, blouses pulled open and ties wrapped around their heads.

Towards the end of the work, the ensemble danced in a controlled chaos, one dancer held an imaginary cup and saucer, dropped it with trembling hands as the overwhelming sound effect of breaking crockery was heard.

Hofesh Shechter was born in Israel and resides in the UK. He recalled about "From England with Love": "British culture has so many different faces, beautiful and complicated aspects, my relation with it is about unravelling the confusion, to observe and contemplate it."

In the end, Shechter's ode to his memories of English was filled with humor and infectious ensemble dancing that was performed superbly by NDT's dancers, their pleasure in performing it brimmed over. Also of note was the work's lighting design by Tom Visser that added much to the piece.

Next on the program came ex-NDT dancers and siblings, Imre and Marne Van Opstal world premiere of "Baby don’t hurt me". Amos Ben-Tal, also an ex-NDT dancer, created the sparkling soundscape for it. The Van Opstal’s were responsible for the costumes and partly for the scenery, which they made together with Tom Visser.

Themes of identity, sexuality, love, motherhood, gender and color were delved into and given shape in the work. The two choreographers said of the piece: "It is really a co-production, we came with a lot of ideas to the studio, but the process took shape with the dancers, they were our co-creators".

The work's seven dancers wrote their own monologues on the work's themes; their personal stories became universal ones. The cast varied twenty years in age and was very diverse.

Beams of light created a very nice, ever-moving sculpture on stage. One by one the dancers entered onto the stage with cheerful steps and engaged in long strokes of arms and legs going in all directions. They spoke in one-liners to the audience and formed a tableau on the dance floor watching the audience in an exhibitionistic way.

The work's soundscape became louder and on the strong rhythms of the music the dancers moved energetically as individuals with extreme twists and expression. One dancers was costumed in a "Charleston-era" suit, another in a long theater dress. The dancers’ monologues varied, some were sweet and candid, some uncomfortable denying their beings. Elegant Lydia Bustinduy said with a clear acting voice: "I am not a dancer. This is my first job ever. I am not a woman. I have children. Giving birth is easy like a walk in the park". During this, the other dancers nestled around her, putting on and taking off her jacket, shoes, handbag, etc. She later she continued: "Imagine you are beautiful, everybody loves you for who you are. Isn’t it nice if people treated you how you should be treated…"
Although she expressed concern about her age - 41 with 3 kids - her performance was still unparalleled.

In between there was a beautiful rhythmic part where all dancers came together in super fast ensemble dancing, knees high up while light beams rotated around them.

Although using text is not always an addition to a dance piece, in this ballet it showed that these great dancers do have the required theatrical talent to make it work. However, the choreography would be more powerful if the movements corresponded with the pronounced feelings of alienation, loneliness and fear. I didn’t see that happen enough in the work.
'From England With Love'.

"From England With Love".

Photo © & courtesy of Rahi Rezvani


'From England With Love'.

"From England With Love".

Photo © & courtesy of Rahi Rezvani


'From England With Love'.

"From England With Love".

Photo © & courtesy of Rahi Rezvani


'Baby don't hurt me'.

"Baby don't hurt me".

Photo © & courtesy of Rahi Rezvani


'Baby don't hurt me'.

"Baby don't hurt me".

Photo © & courtesy of Rahi Rezvani


'Baby don't hurt me'.

"Baby don't hurt me".

Photo © & courtesy of Rahi Rezvani

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