Nederlands Dans Theater last performed in Santa Barbara in 2003. It’s been a long wait for NDT’s fans — those of us who breathlessly pass around their latest YouTube videos on social media, marveling at the dancers’ quick precision and the inventiveness of the company’s choreography, set pieces, and costuming. NDT 2, a touring company composed of 16 of the world’s most gifted young movement artists, will take the Granada stage on Tuesday, February 24.
Nederlands Dans Theater was founded in 1959 by Benjamin Harkarvy, Aart Verstegen, and Carel Birnie, when members of the Dutch National Ballet broke away to create more experimental work. Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián became artistic director in 1975; his work with the company played a major part in building its current aesthetic. In 2012, Paul Lightfoot — who has danced with NDT since 1985 and has been a resident choreographer since 2002, alongside Sol León — became the company’s artistic director.
Tuesday’s program will include Johan Inger’s “I New Then”, Lightfoot and León’s “Shutters Shut” and “Subject to Change,” and Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s “Sara.” “I New Then” is a lighter work featuring music by Van Morrison, pedestrian costumes, and a swingy, thrown waltz flavor. “Shutters Shut” is a riveting, inventively costumed, meticulously detailed duet danced to the poetry of Gertrude Stein. In the ensemble work “Subject to Change,” a wildly inventive, muscular pas de deux set to Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” unfolds on a big red rug, as men in dark suits swoop and loom around. “Sara” is an eerie, mesmerizing group work carved out to the last detail: the direction of the gaze, the position of the fingers.
Last week, Lightfoot answered some of The Independent’s questions about the upcoming program and about NDT’s artistic process.
NDT 2 is NDT’s breeding ground for young dancers, and I’m sure that the audition process is highly competitive. What do you look for aside from extensive classical training? What is the spark that makes a young artist a good fit for the company? Each year, NDT 2 holds its annual audition in January. During our last audition, 280 young dancers attended from all over the world. It’s important that dancers have completed a classical ballet education; they need to have a strong technique. Apart from that, musicality is very important. But, of course, there has to be that unknown element which weighs the balance in an artist’s favor. Many times, I get the question about what that is.
Energy plays a big role in every artist of NDT. There has to be an openness and sensitivity with others. After many years of working with dancers at NDT, I would say that I’d rather work with someone who has better energy and less talent than the opposite … and a creative spirit. NDT is all about creativity.
NDT has such a characteristic sculptural style. How much involvement do the dancers themselves have in building the choreography — in refining it over time? NDT 2 has two to three productions each season, working with many choreographers. Each choreographer will have their own way of working with the dancers in the studio. This creative process very much depends on the choreographer, but the dancers are there to learn how to be part of a creative process. Choreographers come to NDT with the knowledge that the artists are not just going to be puppets in the work, but thinking, sensitive people who will give their utmost to the work. The artistic team of NDT 2 is also hugely important in helping the piece grow with the dancers once a work is premiered. A work never has to end. It is a constant journey that the dancers are responsible for and embrace.
How important a role do costuming and set pieces play in your works? As NDT 2 is an international touring company, many of the works are quite simplistic in terms of set and costumes, as we focus very much on the dance itself. Sol [León] and I believe very much in the details and symbols that we use in our costumes and decor in every piece. “Subject to Change” is perhaps the most interesting on the program. The main element was the red carpet, which acts as a world in itself. It is manipulated by four men who we chose to dress in black suits. We needed to connect them with the carpet, so we lined the suits with red silk. The main couple is constantly in this changing environment of the carpet and the walls around them. It was hugely inspirational to work with these elements.
The answer to this final question came from Commercial Affairs Manager Joost Poort at NDT’s headquarters in The Hague:
Dance artists in the U.S. often struggle to just make ends meet. Even the highest caliber of contemporary dance company can find itself struggling to stay afloat. I’ve heard that in the Netherlands, there is strong state support for the arts, including dance. Can you speak to that — whether it’s true today, and how the Netherlands might set an example for other nations as far as support for the arts?
Two thirds of the total yearly budget of NDT is funded by the national government and the City of The Hague, which shows that in Dutch society, there is a very strong awareness of the importance of art and willingness to support artists. That does not mean that NDT need not be very cost efficient and entrepreneurial. Revenue streams from touring, ticketing, sponsorship, and fundraising are becoming increasingly important.
We consider that NDT, as an organization that obtains government support, has a strong responsibility to be as self-supporting as possible, and therefore we work very hard to generate sustainable growth in NDT’s self-generated income.
UCSB Arts & Lectures presents NDT 2 at the Granada Theatre (1214 State St.) on Tuesday, February 24, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 899-2222 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.