1999 - 2009

The zeros: the anatomy of something golden

Nederlands Dans Theater

"…the eyes should go along… they say ballet is behind other arts, no… the eyes of the public are behind… it’s like modern poetry of which Morriën writes in a poem: you have to go along just as the words go…"

In an interview for the 5th anniversary of Nederlands Dans Theater, Hans van Manen stated that those eyes of the spectator were incredibly important to understand the idea of modern choreographies.[1] This decade marks the celebration of NDT’s 50th anniversary and many artistic encounters for which those eyes had neither lost their importance, nor their relevance. It started, as already mentioned, with an important changing of the guard. At the turn of the century, Jiří Kylián had handed over the artistic direction of the company to Marian Sarstädt, who had been an astonishing NDT dancer during the sixties and early seventies, and afterwards continued her career as a teacher and artistic director of the dance department of the Royal Conservatory,The Hague.[2]

Quintett, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater

Sarstädt remained in this position until January 2004, when Anders Hellström took over. Hellström, who continues to be a vital link within the artistic chain of the company, invited many artists who had crossed his path during his time in Sweden and Germany. The familiar faces of William Forsythe and Mats Ek returned, while new names such as Wayne McGregor, Tero Saarinen, Jacopo Godani, Crystal Pite, Alexander Ekman and Marco Goecke were added to the repertoire. On two different levels Hellström expanded on the idea of accommodating creative needs and providing opportunities for talented artists. In 2008 he initiated the Maximum Dance Course, a programme inviting dancers from all over the world, notwithstanding their level of competence or age, to participate in a two-week summer course to study the repertoire of the company. Nowadays this course is known as the NDT Summer Intensive and emphasises solely on young and talented dance students.[3] In 2005, Hellström had started something similar for young choreographers: UpComing Choreographers. This annual programme, also still running yet in a slightly different form, originally encouraged three dancers of NDT 1 to create for their fellow colleagues – resulting in a run of several performances.[4]

Cacti, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
Photography: visual traces of dance
During one of those UpComing programmes, in 2006, the young choreographers were coupled to a graduate photographer of the Royal Academy of Art The Hague. Among those photographers was Rahi Rezvani who subsequently got the assignment to work with León & Lightfoot on the performance of ‘Sooner or Later’ (2007) in Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek, and since then became one of the house photographers.[5] Although clearly adopting his own visual path, as evidenced by the archival materials on this page, he trod in the footsteps of many renowned photographers. Ed van der Elsken, Eddy Posthuma de Boer, Maria Austria, Gerard Fieret and Ger van Leeuwen – capturing the dancers in their still quite classical early days; Anthony Crickmay, Sven Ulsa, Jorge Fatauros, Hans Gerritsen and Gert Weigelt – securing many modern images during the seventies, eighties and nineties; Dirk Buwalda – with his distinct, grainy photography of expressionist bodies; and Joris-Jan Bos – encapsulating significant moments in the ballets of the company to date.
Sooner or Later, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater

Altogether, those photographers made an important contribution to how the company presented itself over the years. Their photography would illuminate programmes and playbills, and would publicise the work of the company in the streets and in the homes of people in the Netherlands and beyond.[6] Occasionally, other renowned photographers were used to represent the ballets of the repertoire – Josef Sudek, Ben Shahn or Willy Ronis for example.[7] Several campaigns, furthermore, included pieces of photography which, at first glance, might not seem to be the most obvious choice. Otto Snoek and Martin Parr, who contributed to the ‘Tegengif’ (2005) campaign by placing their depiction of the mundane as the antithesis of those delicate movements on stage; or Erwin Olaf who emphasised both the strength and the vulnerability of a dancer’s body in his campaign for the 50th anniversary of the company.[8]

Challenging Dance, 50th anniversary | Poster, 2009, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
Skindex, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
Almost too much brilliance…
The repertoire during this decade revealed a combination of new choreographies with already established ones.[9] It started with a programme in 1999 that contained, according to the Dutch press, almost too much “brilliance and intriguing dance” for one person to digest.[10] ‘Petite Mort’ (1991) by Jiří Kylián; ‘Two Gold Variations’ (1999) by Hans van Manen; ‘Speak for Yourself’ (1999) by León & Lightfoot; and ‘Enemy in the Figure’ (1989) by William Forsythe. Familiar names of choreographers who continued to occupy a prominent place on the repertoire by exploring, each in their own way, the possibilities of movement. Van Manen created his timeless and innocent ‘Simple Things’ (2001), while Forsythe staged his compassionate and all too human ‘Quintett’ (1993) – based on the hypnotic score of ‘Jesus Blood Never Failed Me’ by Gavin Bryars; and his breathtaking ‘Of Any If And’ (1995) – a landscape of cascading words on the disruptive score of Thom Willems.[11] Mats Ek, moreover, re-staged his intriguingly complex ‘FLUKE’ (2002) next to Jiří Kylián premiering ‘Vanishing Twin’ (2008).[12]
Fluke, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater

The artistic family of NDT, furthermore, became extended with the introduction of Crystal Pite. Praised for her own choreographic language, her theatricality and unique sense of movement – particularly the swarming masses of bodies on stage – Hellström invited her to create ‘Pilot X’ in 2005 and ‘The Second Person’ in 2007.[13] After these successful performances, she would become associate choreographer in 2008, resulting in pieces as ‘Frontier’ (2008) and ‘Plot Point’ (2010) – and many more over the coming years. Another artistic entanglement, consolidated during this decade, was found in the collaboration with Marco Goecke. In 2008 he created his first piece ‘Nichts’ for the company – a piece that, in line with his other choreographies, gets under the skin of audiences by incredibly fast movements exploring existential questions of loss, fear and madness.[14] Goecke was subsequently inaugurated as associate choreographer a few years later – during the season of 2013-2014.

This short selection is, obviously, part of a much greater tapestry of riches. A magical richness of vulnerable human beings in León & Lightfoot’s ‘Signing Off’ (2003); ‘Silent Screen’ (2005); ‘Shoot the Moon’ (2006); ‘Same Difference’ (2007); and ‘Shutters Shut’ (2003) – presenting the brilliance of precarious gestures on the words of Gertrude Stein reciting her rhythmic poem ‘If I told him’ (1923). A delicate richness of precision in the steps of Kylián’s ‘27’52”’(2002); ‘Claude Pascal’ (2002); ‘Tar and Feathers’ (2006); and ‘Gods and Dogs’ (2008) – exploring the fluid boundaries of normality and insanity while steadfastly winning the prestigious VSCD dance award for best production of the year 2009. A fresh richness in pieces by a young generation of choreographers such as Johan Inger’s ‘Out of Breath’ (2002); Jorma Elo’s ‘1st Flash’ (2003); Wayne McGregor’s ‘Skindex’ (2006); Lukáš Timulak’s ‘Oneness’ (2007); Medhi Walerski’s ‘Mammatus’ (2007); or Alexander Ekman’s outrageous ‘LAB 15’ (2007).
And, of course, a familiar richness of qualities by dancers from the company. Yvan Dubreuil, Václav Kuneš, Urtzi Aranburu, Medhi Walerski, Miguel Oliveira, Fernando Hernando Magadan, Bastien Zorzetto, Lydia Bustinduy, Virginie Martinat, Lesley Telford, Valentina Scaglia, Aurélie Cayla and Parvaneh Scharafali. Only a few names on a long list of people holding this company and repertoire together, while definitely ensuring that “the eyes should go along”.

Tableau de la Troupe NDT 2, 2001, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
Credits: Story

[1] Hans van Manen in “Nederlands Danstheater bestaat vijf jaar,” De Volkskrant, January 25, 1964.
[2] Interview “Marian Sarstädt: ‘ik hoef niet zo nodig in de schijnwerpers,” Bericht aan de Vrienden, nr. 74, 1999.
[3] This course was first organised in collaboration with De Dutch Don’t Dance Division and Ballet & Co. In 2011, however, NDT started its own course in which around 60 students are provided with an intensive training of the repertoire by NDT. They are taught by teachers and choreographers aligned to the company. Moreover, they make a new creation together with one of the choreographers. Overall, this course proved to be a stepping stone for future NDT 1 en 2 dancers. See: “Summer Intensive - een stepping stone,” in yearbook Nederlands Dans Theater 2010/2011; Mirjam van der Linden, “Lekker huppelen op ’Jungle Book,’ De Volkskrant, July 23, 2008.
[4] Programme UpComing Choreographers, November 2005. This project, nowadays known as Up&Coming Choreographers, continues to stimulate the development of a young generation of creators, but today in close collaboration with KORZO theatre. Also, it has opened up to other people besides NDT dancers.
[5] Programme Sooner or Later, season 2006/2007, NDT 1.
[6] For an overview of the posters and their specific graphic designs see: Gemeentearchief Den Haag, 50 jaar Nederlands Dans Theater. Challenging Graphics. Updown Dance (Den Haag: Ando, 2009).
[7] The photography of Josef Sudek was meshed with parts of the choral music of ‘Vier Lieder’ by Antonín Dvořák in the programme of Jiří Kylián’s Evening Songs (1987); a photo of an American peasant taken by Ben Shahn was placed next to Mats Ek’s Over There (1990); and Willy Ronis’ famed Le Nu Provencal, Gordes was gracing Jennifer Muller’s booklet of Strangers (1970). See: programme Opening Danstheater aan ‘t Spui, season 1987/1988, NDT 1; programme 7, season 1989/1990; programme Strangers, season 1974/1975.
[8] Yearbook Nederlands Dans Theater 2006/2007, pp. 90-91; Jubilee publication season 2009/2010.
[9] See yearbooks of Nederlands Dans Theater published during this decade.
[10] Ine Rietstap, “Overladen programma biedt bijna te veel schitterende dans,” NRC Handelsblad, 26 November 1999.
[11] Programme Safe as Houses, season 2005/2006, NDT 1.
[12] Programme Fluke, season 2007/2008, NDT 1.
[13] Programme Falling Angels, season 2006/2007, NDT 1; Programme The Second Person, season 2008/2009, NDT 1.
[14] Annette Embrechts, “Gooien met een contrabass,” De Volkskrant, November 13, 2008.


For further reading we recommend ‘Nederlands Dans Theater | 60’. This book is published on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of NDT and comprises the personal stories of sixty people aligned to the company, next to the abovementioned text.


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Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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