Don’t be fooled by NDT 2’s name. Originally created in 1978 as a feeder to The Hague-based contemporary dance troupe Nederlands Dans Theater, NDT 2—which features dancers ages 18 to 23—is no second-best venture or educational opportunity. “There’s nothing lesser or weaker about their performance,” says Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot. It’s a fully-fledged company comprised of fully-fledged dancers, who just so happen to be relatively early on in their artistic journeys.
Still, it’s uncommon to see a second company perform a full evening’s worth of work at a venue as large and prestigious as New York City Center. (The Company made its City Center debut during last year’s Fall for Dance Festival.) Lightfoot isn’t worried, though: “The Company knows how to hold its ground. I’m not concerned about them having to stand next to their elder brothers in NDT,” he says.
His confidence is well-founded: NDT was one of the first to pioneer the second company model over 40 years ago, which has since been adopted by ballet and contemporary troupes all over the world. “It’s very important to help young artists understand the creative process,” says Lightfoot. “That’s why it has survived so well.” Today, many of NDT 2’s dancers graduate into NDT 1, which last visited City Center in 2016. “Seeing NDT 1 can be a more emotional experience because of the depth of maturity of the dancers,” he says. “But here you’re seeing a pure crudeness that is thrilling to feel as an audience member. There’s a fresher drive in them that is part of their growing pains as artists, and you come away quite electrified.”
The Company’s US tour—which begins at City Center (January 16–19) and travels to Boston and College Park, Maryland—will serve as a homecoming for some of the young dancers: 6 of the 16 artists are American, an unusually large number in an international troupe.
For much of the City Center audience, the first piece on the program will be an introduction to Romanian choreographer Edward Clug, whose work has scarce been seen in New York City and who is known for his acclaimed Radio and Juliet, set to the music of Radiohead. Lightfoot describes his short quartet mutual comfort as a mating ritual; the dancers’ quick flicks and undulations signaling some sort of primal attraction.
The program includes two pieces by Lightfoot and his choreographic partner Sol León, who also serves as artistic advisor to the Company. Though they have chosen two of their older works, both should feel fresh to New York City audiences. Sad Case, which features Mexican mambo music, has been extended—and according to Lightfoot, “rejuvenated”—since it was last seen in New York City in 2009. Created for NDT 2 in 1998 during León’s pregnancy with the pair’s daughter (they are no longer romantically involved), it reflects the hormonal energy of the time through an abstract, absurd world where extreme emotions—joy, madness, desire, and of course, sadness—run wild.
Their SH-BOOM!, from 1994, has also undergone some renovations over the years: “It’s like a house that’s being added on to,” says Lightfoot. Based on post-World War II music written in the late ’40s and early ’50s, the piece includes songs from England, Spain, America and Finland, chosen to reflect the diversity of the Company. Though the music was designed to foster a positive post-war outlook, the piece itself is “rather dark and cynical,” says Lightfoot, full of dry humor inspired by Francisco de Goya’s satirical black-and-white sketches.
The Company also brings work by Marco Goecke, who, along with Crystal Pite, serves as NDT’s associate choreographer. NDT performed his Woke up Blind at City Center in 2016, a restless, frantic work set to the songs of Jeff Buckley; NDT 2 danced his award–winning Midnight Raga, set to Etta James and Indian musician Ravi Shankar, at the 15th Fall for Dance Festival in 2018. The German choreographer’s new creation for NDT 2, Wir sagen uns Dunkles (Darkness Spoken), also demonstrates his propensity for working with popular music: Lightfoot commissioned the piece for a program highlighting the music of Schubert, but knowing Goecke’s eclectic taste, told him he could feel free to “mix it up.” The result is a score that blends Schubert with songs by the British alt-rock band Placebo.
“If you say it out loud it sounds like the worst idea in the world,” admits Lightfoot, but the piece is “a masterpiece,” he says, a tour de force that, like much of Goecke’s work, pushes the dancers to move at a breakneck pace. “When you watch his work you’re trying to fathom, one, how the dancers remember it, and two, how it got made,” says Lightfoot.
NDT dancers—the second company included—are known for their chameleonic abilities, and Lightfoot says the programming was meant to reflect that. But he’s hoping there will still be some surprises in store. “If we were to just present what I think the audience wants to see, you’re guaranteeing a lesser artistic experience,” says Lightfoot. “There should be something unexpected.”
Lauren Wingenroth is a New York City-based writer currently serving as an Assistant Editor at Dance Magazine, and as the Chair of the Dance/NYC Junior Committee.