Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) is one of the most prolific and widely celebrated contemporary dance companies in the world, led by Artistic Director, Paul Lightfoot, and Artistic Advisor Sol León. This touring production features 24 virtuoso dancers, world-class technical production elements and exquisite choreography. NDT’s style both embraces and eschews classical form in beautiful juxtaposition, and their performance at Arts Centre Melbourne is truly not to be missed.

Three outstanding contemporary dance pieces are offered for the audience to delight in, each running around twenty to thirty minutes. Sehnsucht, by Sol León & Paul Lightfoot, Solo Echo by Crystal Pite and Stop-Motion by Sol León & Paul Lightfoot explore contemporary dance movements and motifs, each striking a clear style and artistic vision.

The crew must also be applauded, especially as both the subtlety and simplicity of the lighting were powerfully effective, as was the enormous degree with which the lighting states changed from mere shadows to bright washes and everything in-between.

SEHNSUCHT by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot

Sehnsucht is a master work of juxtaposition, precision, strength and subtlety. At almost every point there was a sharp movement to contrast a tension-filled port de bras, a dramatic pas de duex behind an understated solo, and beautiful breaks into and out of unison. The precise musical understanding of the chosen selection of Beethoven works was clear in both the choreography and the dancers throughout.

Opening with a simple spotlight on a solo dancer (Prince Credell), his movements ever slow and deliberate, created an air of concentration and drama. This atmosphere would be briefly interrupted by tense, spasmodic accents of vibratory movement, only to return to the previous tempo as if these moments never even took place.

A pair of dancers (Parvaneh Scharafali and Medhi Walerski) in a rotating set piece were active and connected, their energetic choreography was artfully disrupted by long, languid movements. The pair were perfectly united in their performance, always moving with identical dynamics, timing and line, whilst deliberately almost never moving in literal unison choreography.

The cube-shaped set portrayed a simple domestic scene and was expertly lit. This cube could rotate, and at every angle aspects of the home within would settle coherently, while other aspects would land at odd angles to create an abstract image, as well as an array of shadows. The dancers explored the set to its every potential, and it rotated just enough times to keep it visually interesting without being overplayed.

As the set went away, an ensemble of incredibly precise dancers flooded the stage. The ensemble choreography alternately avoid classical forms and embrace them. Each ensemble member had defined featured moments, moving seamlessly from solo/duo/trio to ensemble to both at once. Unison choreography abounded, yet was always juxtaposed by an isolated focus.

This reviewer was stunned by a moment where Credell initiated a section of movement, and three, four, six dancers joined in every bar of music. Just as the entire ensemble was moving in unison, Credell froze in position, arms opened victoriously, seemingly left behind by the choreography until suddenly swept into the unison again. This moment is thankfully revisited and just like the rest of the piece, shows an incredible depth of understanding in the application of using unison and non-unison movement in sublime contrast.

SOLO ECHO by Crystal Pite

Set before a constant backdrop of falling snow, this piece explored the connection between the individual and the masses in motion and melancholy. Just as the snowflakes peacefully drift to the ground, so does the choreography create a meditation and flowing aesthetic. Solo Echo is comprised of two pieces, each accompanied by a different Brahms cello sonata, and was inspired by the poem Lines for Winter by Mark Strand.

The first piece was filled with interwoven solos and duos, imbued with constant motion whilst rare, fleeting. moments of stillness and slowness became breathtaking. Pite’s choreography in this section employed unceasing rotation at every level, from connection the floor, to limbs alone, within and between partners, in feet, arms and bodies.

This complex current of rotation used aspects of hip-hop and break-dance, whilst still moving between classical and contemporary forms. The dancer’s connection to the floor was outstanding, as was their connection to their partners. As one solo/duo would end, another dancer or pair would run forcefully on to the stage, exchanging energy one by one.

In the second half, a bar of snow becomes a veritable wall of dancing snowflakes, while all seven performers cease exiting and moved together for the first time in an effective shift. Connection and disconnection somehow became one, physically and emotionally the fleeting moments were heartbreaking.

Laden with tension, the dancers moved perfectly as an ensemble without a moment of true unison. The “shadows” of one dancer’s interaction with their partner would ripple throughout the ensemble, as focus shifted seamlessly from dancer to dancers to dancer. Solo Echo used the full space in a completely different way to Sehnsucht, as well as with the juxtaposition of ensemble and solo elements.

This piece is simply beautiful, its final moments moved me to tears.

STOP-MOTION by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot

This piece must truly be seen to be believed. Such displays of virtuosity, artistic depth and technical features are rare indeed. The choreography allowed the dancers to show off their world-class technique, flexibility, strength and expression..

Just as the piece’s characteristic dust would settle to the ground (a feature that uniquely highlighted the dancer’s impact as well as extending their line), as a new section began, the previous moment would take minutes to dissipate in slow motion, adding an element of the ethereal. Hauntingly slow projections were subtle and not distracting, yet absolutely effective.

Each character had a clear movement style, and while there was no true narrative, the audience could feel genuine emotional depth from each dancer. Sharp angles, beautiful partner work and powerful performances made this work an absolute highlight.

NDT have strongly upheld their impressive reputation, earned their rapturous standing ovation and left this reviewer feeling inspired, emotional and with an utmost respect for this company.