The Arts Centre has scored an exclusive Australian season of contemporary dance featuring the legendary Nederlands Dans Theater I. After a 14 year absence, the doyennes of contemporary dance will showcase their distinctive style at the Arts Centre’s State Theatre with five performances this July. Paul Andrew chats with NDT Artistic Director, Jim Vincent.

Nederlands Dans TheaterFor the benefit of new audiences to your company’s work – and indeed to contemporary dance – here in Australia Jim can you tell me something about the origins of NDT in 1959, a time of anarchy, revolution, change?
NDT was founded by a few Netherlands Ballet dancers who needed to break away from the traditions and conventions of classical dance. A rebellious reputation was assigned to them almost immediately and they in turn embraced the image and reputation. As I have understood the history, in many cases based on first-hand accounts, their drive for change came from a need for another form of expression; it evolved into an objective which was methodically cultivated.

Today NDT maintains that tradition and continues to push the art form of contemporary dance out of very similar needs. The program we will present in Melbourne is a revelatory cross-section of the company and its dynamic today. Our work is a combination of dance and theatre, there is as much interpretation and context as there is physicality.

How is contemporary dance different to other art forms?
Dance is very similar to many other art forms. Naturally it has a certain advantage over some other performance arts in that it is a universal language. In our daily lives, we all move, define and design ourselves in space and often convey our feelings through posture, gesture and movement. Dance delves more deeply into these areas, researches and designs those actions more completely and sometimes more eloquently. At its best, it engages and touches us and yet escapes precise description.

How do you like to describe contemporary dance – your company's oeuvre in particular – to newcomers to the art form?
Contemporary dance is exactly that, a perspective and medium which should be relevant to our lives today – reflect what is going on all around us. The work we present is most often inspired by a specific musical composition. The music is often the catalyst which inspires the work or which drives the work. NDT’s repertory is extremely physical, requires strong and extremely articulate technique, but at the same time requires detailed and subtle interpretation.

In dance history terms, the exponents who you feel are major influences for the company?
John Cranko certainly inspired Jiri Kylian in his early years – helped him find his feet as a choreographer. However Jiri pushed himself and his company to reconsider and redefine his work or “style” and the profile of the company, over and over again. Back in the late 1970s and 1980s William Forsythe, Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin all had a major influence on the company as well. The collaborative processes we went through, with those emerging choreographers, broadened the scope and vision of the company. It also opened the door to young emerging choreographers, coming up from within, to find their own voices.

And the more recent influences, your resident choreographers?
Our resident and associate choreographers come from extremely diverse backgrounds. This allows both our dancers and audience to experience quite diverse collaboration and programming. However I feel the single most obvious influence we (all) feel today is the globalization of dance. Of course that has just as much negative influence on us and our work as it does positive. The dancers of both NDT I and II also influence the development of the repertory, often just as much as the choreographers.

Double You by choreographer Jiri Kylián?
This work was originally created for Gary Chryst while he was a dancer with NDT III. I see the work as one that deals with self-doubt, an extension of the question we ask ourselves when we are confronted by a mirror. Another tone of the work is the passing of time.

Sol León and Paul Lightfoot are two of a new generation of choreographer in residence at NDT?
Paul and Sol are often inspired by cinema, specifically older movies. Although their work is often abstract, it is always inspired by a theme or is built within an atmosphere. They always work together and somehow do bring a sort of balance (yin and yang) to their process. Their work is extremely physically demanding and I feel is recognizable as work that has come from within NDT.

And NDT choreographer Crystal Pite?
Crystal brings balance and a completely different perspective to NDT. Her influences, some of which come from significant time spent with William Forsythe, are highly contrasted to those of our other resident and associate choreographers. Crystal relates us, the audience or viewer, to her work through direct connection. There is humanity in her work and she often reaches out by confronting us with ourselves or exhibiting this connection... breaking down or deconstructing any barriers between us.

What are you the most grateful for now?
At this very moment I am – we are – extremely grateful to our Minister of Culture, Mr. Halbe Zijlstra, for not following the Cultural Council’s recommendation to cut our budget by almost half. I would also like to thank everyone who signed the petition in support of our cause and helped us lobby against the proposed reduction of our national subsidies. And finally, we are all grateful to find ourselves back in Australia again and to be given the opportunity to share our program with the audiences of Melbourne.

Nederlands Dans Theater I

Venue: the Arts Centre, State Theatre
Dates: 13 – 17 July 2011
Tickets: $37 - $146
Bookings: | 1300 182 183

Image credits:
Cover and Top Right –
Nederland Dans Theater. Photos – Joris Jan Bos

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