On the struggling and often confused American dance scene, the companies that make up Nederlands Dans Theater might seem to inhabit an alternative artistic universe. Think ballet line and virtuosity fused with modern dance weight and power. Think a commitment to the deepest European art-making traditions with no pandering to pop culture. Above all, think a super-ensemble: dancers who can form a superb corps one moment and perform just as superbly as principals the next.
The proof was rapturously evident at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Friday when the main contingent (NDT1) presented three works created in the last seven years.
Now directed by former dancer Paul Lightfoot, the company delivered its characteristic emphasis on soulful, downbeat expression at its usual stratospheric level of execution. But NDT's prevailing sense of sexual politics always remained curiously backdated on Friday with gender roles unquestioned and predictable even when the state of modern relationships came under the knife in in the uncompromisingly intense "Shoot the Moon."
Choreographed and designed by Lightfoot and Sol León to a section of Philip Glass' Tirol Concerto, this 2006 quintet featured a revolving set that showed rooms inhabited by fiercely combative, despairing people, with only a single gesture of reaching out offering a sign of hope at the end. Live video above the rooms inspected the trapped participants: Danielle Rowe, Parvaneh Scharafali, Brett Conway, Roger Van der Poel and Medhi Walerski, all spectacular.
Less conventional in form than this dance drama, the 2007 septet "Same Difference" found Lightfoot and León exploring audience confrontation techniques and eccentric characterizations to more recorded Glass (portions of his third symphony and fifth string quartet).
But just as the bizarre spoken outbursts and wild, spasmodic motion by a crew of multinational navel-gazers seemed to be settling into a misguided tribute to the late Pina Bausch, everyone suddenly dug much deeper and showed us the consuming pain under the asocial behavior. Jorge Nozal, for instance, had spewed incoherent anger as a hobbling soldier but now returned, tragic and ennobled by his suffering. Similar revelations came from Walerski, Marne von Opstal, Bastien Zorzetto, Luisa Maria Arias, Sarah Reynolds and Fernando Hernando Magadan.
Besides dancing in two of the pieces, Walerski choreographed and designed the third: "Chamber" (co-commissioned by the Music Center) to a score by Joby Talbot with an acknowledged debt to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." This galvanic ensemble piece also occasionally referenced or echoed choreographic versions of the "Rite," as when the corps formed a stalking circle around a couple, much in the manner of the revered Maurice Béjart edition.
Mostly, however, "Chamber" provided a sustained immersion in the firepower, individual and collective, of the 18-member cast. Jordan Tuinman's sepia front-lights and blue overhead illumination may have been deliberately and sometimes dismayingly dim, but the training and talent of the company blazed brilliantly.
But it was Tom Bevoort's lighting for "Same Difference" that created a choreographic spectacle of its own, with mobile banks of spotlights and almost tangible shafts of brightness forming architectural shapes overhead. Bevoort also lit "Shoot the Moon," but here he conjured up a technical showpiece that might have upstaged any other company anywhere.
Performances of this program continue through Sunday.