Nederlands Dans Theatre Returns to New York City Center

Nederlands Dans Theatre 1 (NDT) returns to New York for performances at City Center March 4th through the 7th . NDT is celebrating its 60th anniversary season and the main company’s first performance in New York since 2016. We caught up with artistic director Paul Lightfoot, who will be succeeded by Emily Molnar–former artistic director of Ballet BC–at the end of this season. Lightfoot toted the diversity of the programming being presented in New York this March and touched on what the company and its role in the dance world mean to him. 

Lightfoot counts himself lucky when trying to decide on programming for NDT. This company has such a vast amount of original work to choose from. He and his choreographic partner Sol León alone have created over 50 works during their tenure. This is a company that is continually in “creative mode” at Lightfoot puts it, commissioning and creating work with some of the most innovative and distinct choreographic voices of today. 

Lightfoot wanted to bring dances to City Center that would challenge the New York audience and show a side of the company that they are not necessarily expecting. He knew that The Missing Door choreographed by Gabriela Carrizo would achieve this. This piece communicates its message through a unique kind of physical theatre. It’s not purely aesthetic and choreographic, it has a distinct edge. NDT will also be bringing associate choreographer Marco Goecke’s Walk the Demon to New York. Lightfoot cites this work as an extremely mature example of Goecke’s idiom. He says this dark and powerful piece about humanity will surely sweep the audience away. Sol León and Lightfoot’s Shut Eye will close out the evening. Inspired by the fantastical and macabre illustrations of Edward Gorey, Shut Eye is a highly specific work dealing with the state between sleep and consciousness. The eight characters on stage will create a surreal world that might just make the audience question what roles their senses and emotions really play in what they see. 

Negotiating between practicalities and artistic choices is commonplace for Lightfoot at NDT. He calls the dynamic between his dual roles as house choreographer and artistic director a Jekyll and Hyde scenario. After nearly ten years serving as NDT’s artistic director Lightfoot is looking forward to relinquishing his managerial responsibilities in favor of his artistic ones. He will continue his role in the company’s far-reaching reputation of artistic excellence, working with the company in a choreographic capacity.

NDT has a long history of rebellion, ironic now because it is considered an institution within the dance community. Lightfoot is not concerned that this rebellious nature will change once he departs as artistic director. He acknowledges that NDT is in a unique position. Most dance companies do not have the luxury of government funds along with trust and freedom to do with those funds what they please. NDT has the flexibility and the means to take creative risks and share what it is doing on an international scale. The Netherlands sets an incredible example of tolerance and curiosity and as long as this continues so to will the intense creative environment that has characterized NDT for much of its 60 year history. 

After 35 years with this organization Lightfoot recognizes that stability and comfort could kill its creativity, “it’s the shaking, the burning and the drowning that make us want to survive. And that’s what pulls us into new realms. I think it’s all about how you approach things with your energy. Even when it’s been at its most rebellious and most monstrous NDT has always done things with a level of ethics and integrity toward something productive, towards the dance form and its message.” This new phase in the company will be watched closely as the dance world continues to look toward NDT for inspiration and guidance. In Lightfoot’s opinion this change is welcome and should be embraced.  He declares, “the art of letting go is something we all have to learn in life, on stage or otherwise… the only certainty in life is change.”

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