Dance review: Nederlands Dans Theater 2, Edinburgh

Nederlands Dans Theater 2 unveiled a rich tapestry of contemporary dance. Picture: Johan Persson
Nederlands Dans Theater 2 unveiled a rich tapestry of contemporary dance. Picture: Johan Persson
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Sometimes contemporary dance is a challenge, occasionally it’s a chore – but every now and then, it has the power to make you really, really happy.

Nederlands Dans Theater 2 | Edinburgh Festival Theatre | Rating *****

As the large crowd poured out of Edinburgh Festival Theatre, following Nederlands Dans Theater 2’s latest offering, there was a real buzz in the air. The curtain had just fallen on Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, and we were all coasting on a cultural high.

It’s not the first time this witty and accessible piece has been seen in Edinburgh (NDT2 first brought it in 2012) but my goodness it bears repeat viewing. All the choreographers who create work at the company’s Hague headquarters know they’re handling something special: a group of young dancers fresh from training, who have barrel loads of energy, enthusiasm and talent to share with the world. But perhaps because Ekman used to be one of them (he danced with NDT2 from 2002-2005) he instinctively knew how to bring out the best in them.

For those in the know, Cacti is a hilarious satire about the pretentious nature of artistic criticism. Even without that knowledge, however, it’s just a great piece of dance performed in razor sharp unison by 17 incredible dancers. Standing on low plinths, they clap, stomp and wiggle to music by Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven, before decorating the stage with potted cacti. A shining example of how contemporary dance has the capacity to please all-comers.

If Cacti was the icing on the cake, then the trilogy of works by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot which opened the show was a substantial meal in itself. Originally performed individually, but presented here as one long work, Schubert, Sad Case and Some Other Time each inhabit their own distinct world.

The one unifying factor is a series of ‘dancing boards’ – black partitions on wheels, which hidden dancers wheel around to carve up the space. In Schubert, a young couple interprets the joy and complexity of a romantic relationship. Sad Case, a humorous work set to uplifting Mambo music, finds five quirky dancers using the stage as a movement playground.

Some Other Time – arguably the most evocative Lightfoot/León piece of the evening – is a beautiful manifestation of Max Richter’s music, with four dancers dressed entirely in black delivering solos and duets packed with emotion.

As if all of the above weren’t enough, NDT2 also treated us to Mutual Comfort, a short, musically driven quartet choreographed by Edward Clug, and Hans van Manen’s superb Solo.

Despite its title, Solo is in fact a work for three male dancers – each depicting a different aspect of a man’s character. Fast-paced, balletic, occasionally witty and technically challenging for the dancers, this 1997 work from former NDT dancer and company head van Manen was a brief (just seven minutes) moment of choreographic genius by one of the dance world’s great masters.

And every step, in every piece, was delivered with precision, passion, flair and skill by this remarkable crop of young dancers.