Nederlands Dans Theater 2 is, like Boston Ballet II, a “second” company of young dancers, with an identity of its own. Founded in 1978, NDT2 made its Celebrity Series debut in 2009; this weekend it returned with a quartet of contemporary pieces. At Saturday’s Shubert Theatre performance, the classically trained dancers, ages 18 to 25, were stupendous in their energy and their technique. And the program warmed up after a chilly start.
I last saw NDT2 at Jacob’s Pillow in 2007, in repertoire by Hans van Manen, Johan Inger, and former NDT artistic director Jirí Kylián. This time out, we got two oldish works from NDT house choreographers Sol León and Paul Lightfoot — “Sad Case” (1998) and “SH-BOOM!” (1994/2000) — and two newer ones in NDT associate choreographer Marco Goecke’s “Wir sagen uns Dunkles” (2017) and frequent contributor Edward Clug’s “mutual comfort” (2015). The influence of Kylián’s style was palpable throughout; there were moments when it seemed a single choreographer could have been responsible for the entire 2½-hour program.
Clug’s “mutual comfort” led off. Set to the pulsing score of Slovenian composer Milko Lazar’s “PERpeTuumOVIA,” it’s 12 minutes of the kind of robotic articulation and Cubist displacement that Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo has made familiar. The two men and two women size one another up, flirt, change partners in a rondo of sexual politics and comic gestures. You wait to see who will wind up with whom, and why, but in that respect the piece is a tease right to the end, or rather to the point where it stops in silhouette.
Lightfoot has explained that “Sad Case” (which NDT2 performed here in 2009) was made when León was pregnant with a daughter who had been conceived in Mexico. Set to mambo music, not to mention wolf whistles, clucking chickens, and telenovela-like dialogue, the piece juxtaposes frenetic gesturing and drill-team acrobatics with caveman antics, swaying hips, waggly hands, and silly walks (as if the “Sad Case” were Charlie Chaplin’s). It’s all fun, but it doesn’t come into focus till the bolero beat of “Perfidia” (the 1939 song made famous by Xavier Cugat, Desi Arnaz, and “Casablanca”) gives the three men and two women something to dance with and against.
Goecke’s “Wir sagen uns Dunkles” is more ambitious. The title — German for “We exchange dark words” — appears to have been drawn from Paul Celan’s poem “Corona”; the score interweaves three songs by the British alternative rock band Placebo with Franz Schubert’s “Notturno” and the second movement from Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Quintet. Once again the dancers make Rubik’s Cubes out of themselves; they move like puppets, whisper while the wind roars about them, break into crazy laughter. “Loud Like Love” is the final Placebo song, but the piece doesn’t quite arrive there. At one point during the Schubert, however, a couple, instead of dancing at each other, began to answer each other, as if indeed exchanging words.
“SH-BOOM” is the dessert on the program. Set to popular songs from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, everything from “Do I Worry” and “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” to “Auf Wiederseh’n” and the doo-wop title number, it’s a tender spoof of American innocence and romance. The quartet of women, in tea-length black dresses, hold the stage while the men, usually in white underwear and knee socks, engage in lovesick wooing. (In one discreetly lit number, the man is naked.) The hilarious finale, to “Sh-Boom,” sends up the incomprehensibility of doo-wop lyrics as the dancers perform with white handkerchiefs in their mouths. As the curtain fell Saturday, tiny white slips of paper with the song’s alternate title, “Life Could Be a Dream,” rained down on the audience.
Nederlands Dans Theater 2
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. At the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, Saturday, Jan. 26.Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.