Not Only Timeless, but Ageless


Like Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man,” the three companies that form Nederlands Dans Theater define changing identities within a single life. Founded as an apprentice group in 1978, NDT-2 now embodies a vision of fearless, limitless physicality: 17- to 22-year-olds exulting in the first bloom of their prowess as modern dancers.

The main company (founded in 1959) takes it from there, refining its recruits into one of the world’s great creative instruments and eventually releasing them to NDT-3: a 6-year-old ensemble of artists over the age of 40. You can find a wider age range elsewhere--at the Royal Danish Ballet, for instance, where a single Bournonville ballet might feature dancers from 5 to 70 or more. But nowhere else are the specific expressive qualities within a dancer’s life-cycle so pertinently highlighted in isolation.

The main company graced the Southland a year ago and this week NDT-2 and 3 danced separately at the Alex Theatre in Glendale before moving on to a weekend of shared programs in Costa Mesa, beginning tonight. Together, the Tuesday and Wednesday Alex performances offered a short course in European modernism over the past 15 years, danced to blazes by both the kids and their elders.


Artistic director Jiri Kylian contributed the oldest pieces in the NTD-2 rep, beginning with “Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen” (1982), a series of neo-Romantic duets set to the Marilyn Horne recording of Mahler’s song cycle. Expert dance-making, but perhaps too conventionally lush.

A year later, however, Kylian had been inspired by Australian aboriginal dancing to explore a less candied, more elemental style--a change documented in “Stamping Ground,” a suite of spectacularly inventive solos derived mostly from animal movement and danced mostly to a percussion score by Carlos Chavez. If NDT-2 lacked nuance in the former work, it made the startling spinal morph of the latter into child’s play: a triumph all around.

Using Bach violin partitas, Hans van Manen divided a dauntingly fast, intricate, dodge-and-freeze showpiece among three virtuoso men (Joe Kanamori, Patrick Marin and Vaclav Kunes) in his breezy, brand-new “Solo.”

However, the freshest, most disarmingly youthful choreography came in “Mellantid,” a sprawling 1995 celebration of adolescence created by NDT-1 dancer Johan Inger, set to a patchwork score and overloaded with sweetness, theater-games and endearing performances. Most memorable, perhaps: Fabrice Mazliah as the feckless, reckless youth who kept trying to fly and grew up to be an aviator.

If “Mellantid” and the NDT-2 evening as a whole focused on discoveries, NDT-3 emphasized the familiar. Most of its pieces had been seen 16 months ago at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater with the same five dancers. And among those dancers were Martine van Hamel and Gary Chryst, known to local audiences as stars of (respectively) American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet back when those companies looked a lot better than they do today.

In Christopher Bruce’s rough-hewn “Moonshine,” Chryst again played the irrepressible child in a homeless family on the road--each member reliving the past through dances reflecting the texts and moods of Bob Dylan ballads. In Kylian’s “No Sleep Till Dawn of Day,” Van Hamel and Sabine Kupferberg again used a line of 22 folding chairs in a compressed, stylized portrait of a woman’s day set to a lullaby from the Solomon Islands.


Paul Lightfoot’s sly “Susto” again found Van Hamel, Chryst, Jeanne Solan and Gerard Lemaitre bathing rapturously in the sand pouring down from a giant overhead hourglass--to the thunderous accompaniment of Beethoven’s Fifth. And Ohad Naharin’s duet “Off White” again turned marital tensions into an uproarious wrestling match for Kupferberg and Chryst set to a Strauss waltz arranged by Arnold Schoenberg.

Complementing Naharin, and not danced here previously: Van Manen’s “The Old Man and Me,” a 1996 duet for Kupferberg and Lemaitre that deftly chronicled a disintegrating marriage through a compendium of foolish, tender and hopeless encounters enlisting music by Mozart, Stravinsky and J.J. Cale.

Also new to the Southland: Lightfoot’s abstract character portrait “So Sorry,” which juxtaposed the spinning of a huge top or gyroscope with impulsive, out-of-control actions by Solan as a woman always obsessively touching, hitting or bedeviling herself. Music by Bach and Falla accompanied her descent into mindlessness.

Equally mindless: forcing the NDT-3 audience to either remain jammed in the tiny lobby at intermission or become unpaid extras in a TV comedy shoot that had been allowed to take over the Alex courtyard. Very tacky.

* Nederlands Dans Theater 2 and 3 appear together tonight and Saturday, 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m., Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $10-$59. (714) 740-7878.