Amid the national politics and global courts of the Hague, there's also a vibrant arts scene. You may know that Vermeer's classic painting "Girl With a Pearl Earring" hangs in the tiny Mauritshuis museum, but this picturesque Dutch city with a smalltown vibe is also home to the esteemed, forward-looking Nederlands Dans Theater. Always composed of solid performers since its 1959 founding, the troupe vaulted to prominence under Jioi Kylian, who led for years, beginning in 1978, with his emotional and kinetic choreography.
But with Kylian gone -- he retired as director in 1999 and remained with the company as chief choreographer and artistic advisor until he left in 2009 -- the company returns to Southern California under the direction of a New Jersey native. Jim Vincent, 52, joined the troupe when he was 19 and danced for 12 years with NDT I (a junior company is called NDT II) before moving to Madrid; Lyon, France; and, in 2000, back to the States, where he took the reins of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago until returning to the Netherlands in 2009.
He and the company will take the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion this week as part of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center.
Vincent, talking by phone from the land of tulips and Delftware, addressed the daunting notion of stepping into the venerated Kylian's shoes.
"Jioi took his shoes with him," Vincent quipped. "I told him, 'If you want me to have any chance of doing this after all your time with the company, you have to give me the space to do it. I want you close, but I also need some distance.' We spent a lot of time together, we're friends as much as colleagues, and that's been our relationship for quite a few years now."
Last seen in L.A. during the 2002-03 season at Royce Hall, NDT I was slated for 2009 at the Music Center until the economy forced a cancellation. Since then, Vincent says, he hired seven dancers -- the current troupe numbers 29 -- and there will be less focus on Kylian's work. "If a dancer is coming to NDT to only do Jioi s work," adds Vincent, "then they don't have a future with the company."
In fact, the Music Center performances will feature two works by others. "Silent Screen" (2005), set to Philip Glass music, is from the duo Sol Leon and Paul Lightfoot, NDT resident choreographers since 2002. Crystal Pite's "The Second Person" was made in 2007, the year she was appointed NDT associate choreographer. Pite, who has already made four pieces for NDT, is a rising star. Her troupe, Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM, performed at UCLA last month; and Dance Magazine hailed her "Dark Matters" as one of "the most astonishing" works of 2010.
"The Second Person," described by the Chicago Tribune as a "dance theater extravaganza with Kafkaesque themes achieved through arresting design," makes use of two dozen dancers, a text by Pite and a puppet. The piece, with an original electronic score by Owen Belton, is a Lars von Trier-like odyssey of alienation, with Kate Strong's voice-over intoning simple phrases such as, "knees buckle," "head hits the ground."
"I was interested in narratives in the body -- gestures and postures that evoke familiar story lines -- heartbreak, victory and joy, that repeat over generations," says Pite, 40.
She relishes working up to 10 weeks at a stretch with NDT dancers, whose abilities to fuse ballet technique with the idiomatic freedom of modern dance rank with the finest in the world. Possessed of sumptuous lines, slinky grace and power squared, the dancers, Pite says, are a good match for her work. "I also like that they're committed to innovation, both in the studio and on stage."
Barcelona, Spain-born Lydia Bustinduy, 33, has been with NDT for nearly 12 years. She says she sees traces of Kylian in Vincent's directing style. "Because Jioi had to make the company somewhat important and it was already established when Jim came, I think Jioi was tougher. But I think Jim is handling everything pretty well, and he has a good vision of what he wants the company to be."
Vincent's vision also relies to some extent on his so-called outsider status. Though in the ranks of Americans helming European dance groups (including two in Germany, William Forsythe's Dresden-based The Forsythe Company and John Neumeier's The Hamburg Ballet), Vincent says that he doesn't feel particularly American. Indeed, he spent 22 years abroad and has a French wife and three daughters, all of which contributes to his worldview.
"The fusion," adds the expatriate, "when you adapt to a different culture, a different language, and a different society, creates more objectivity and more tolerance. It's an education in itself. That's also what I came back for -- and to a system that was less challenged financially."
Under Kylian's leadership, NDT spawned a wealth of dancers-turned-choreographers who have gone on to direct their own prestigious troupes, among them Nacho Duato (after leading Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza for two decades, he's now head of Russia's Mikhailovsky Ballet), and Ohad Naharin of Batsheva Dance Company. Vincent says he plans to continue nurturing choreographic talent, in-house and otherwise.
"What's exceptional beyond having these choreographers is that we have an exclusivity of their work and how the works are being interpreted by this particular group of dancers -- especially with Jioi's work -- that exists no place else."
And with the globalization of dance -- including YouTube as a star-making outlet -- Vincent says it's not only his responsibility to identify singular voices but to create a forum in which their potential can flourish.
"I'm optimistic that NDT will continue to have a deeper impact on the future of dance as an art form that demands patience and allows you as the viewer to be taken over, to be captivated by something so that it might resonate with you thereafter."
Nederlands Dans Theater
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday
Cost: $30 to $120
Information: (213) 972-0711 or musiccenter.org