For their 50th anniversary tour, Nederlands Dans Theater have merged their youth company (for dancers under 23) with their main company – though they’re all so sleek you can scarcely tell them apart. In Johan Inger’s Dissolve in This (2009), the stage is set with flecks of grey foam. The effect is to muffle every footfall, lending an air of hushed intensity; the significance is hard to fathom, though that goes for the piece as a whole. Neon rings and video of water weed illuminate the cryptic action. Things improve when Inger focuses on group composition – dancers criss-crossing the stage as if scurrying across a no man’s land, or clumping into one creature – but this remains a perplexing work.
There’s more floor symbolism in Paul Lightfoot and Sol León’s 2003 work Subject to Change. It features a red carpet on which a woman fitfully expresses inner turmoil, sometimes in a knotty but sterile duet with a bare-chested man. They’re accompanied by a vigorous quartet of suited men representing death; the music is Schubert’s Death and the Maiden. It suggests the carpet represents life, its edges our mortal limits, its corners what we brush under it – a lot for a carpet to bear, especially when the choreography barely carries its own weight.
In Jiří Kylián’s Whereabouts Unknown (1993), the floor features prominently, too, with a dancer drawing patterns in sand, but the symbolism, with intimations of marks and maps, is subtler and richer. The choreography is also more resonant, evoking mythic figures – hunter soul-seeker, wind walker – and generating surges of energy, or ripples of calm. The dancers were admirable throughout, but it’s this piece that lifts the programme.