The nineties: a little piece of eternity


of small papers falling from the sky – stating in black capitals that life
could just as well be a dream. And not just a dream - a dream with a promise of
possibilities. This shower of promises marks the closing of ‘SH-BOOM’ (1994)
one of the earliest pieces by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. Over the years this
choreographic duo, who both started as dancers with NDT 2 during the eighties,
would emerge as phenomenal performers, house choreographers and artistic staff.
Their artistic journey intertwines with creative encounters in the nineties and
institutional endeavours to reach beyond conventional boundaries of time and

If Only… If Only…Nederlands Dans Theater

NDT 3: a group for dancers
of 'le troisième âge'

Those endeavours became particularly tangible through the realization of NDT 3. This third company was founded on an idea of Gérard Lemaître to create a group for dancers of 'le troisième âge', who were no longer given the opportunity to perform on stage. Although he originally tried to establish this group in France, he ended up – once more – in The Hague. After a conversation with Sabine Kupferberg, who had been a significant member of NDT since 1975, and the lifelong partner and muse of Jiří Kylián, they created together an ensemble of dancers aged from 40 upwards.[1] Kylián characterised the new company as a joint effort of “dancers, not indulging in what has passed, but exploring the richness of experiences accumulated over the years of their professional and private lives – reaching and experimenting with new approaches to creativity, redefining the balance of physical and spiritual values”.[2] 

Birth-Day Birth-Day, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
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Their first premiere, November 8, 1991, comprised choreographies created for this small ensemble – Gérard Lemaître, Sabine Kupferberg, Niklas Ek, and Alida Chase – by William Forsythe (‘Marion Marion’ – with costumes by Gianni Versace), Jiří Kylián (‘Obscure Temptations’), Hans van Manen (‘Evergreens’), and Mats Ek (‘Journey’). This group of impressive dancers and theatre personalities would continue to exist until 2006 and would, over the years, perform in different kind of formations – with Jeanne Solan, Gary Chryst, Egon Madsen, David Krügel and Gioconda Barbuto for instance. During those years of existence it created with other acclaimed artists, such as Christopher Bruce, Ohad Naharin, Maurice Béjart, León & Lightfoot, Nacho Duato, Meryl Tankard and Robert Wilson.[3] In quite a remarkable way, Arlette van Boven acted as a conduit between this older generation of dancers and the younger ones. While she had made a significant contribution to NDT 3 from the beginning, and was artistic director of this ensemble from 1994-1998, she had joined the company as a young dancer in 1969 in order to become the leader of its junior division in 1981.

Shorthand - Six Stravinsky Pieces Shorthand - Six Stravinsky PiecesNederlands Dans Theater

The evolution of NDT 2

Under the supervision of Van Boven this group changed significantly. First of all, in its name. Starting as the Springplank, the group transformed from NDT-Junior (1981) into NDT 2 (1987). Second, through its development. The group became more strongly embedded within the company, having the same teachers and choreographers as the first company, and, furthermore, shifted its focus from Dutch students to dancers of all nationalities.[4] Gradually NDT 2 grew into an independent company with its own structure, vision and international stature. This process crystalized under the direction of Gerald Tibbs, who had joined the company in 1975, as a strong and charismatic dancer, and took over the artistic leadership of NDT 2 in 1990. He would occupy this position until 2018 and emphasised the “musicality, technicality and the personality of each dancer” and the need to prepare young individuals for a life and career within a dance company.[5]

Under the Marron Tree Under the Marron Tree, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
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This preparation dwelt more generally on encouraging young artists to be creative. To accommodate their artistic needs, Kylián introduced the Christmas Cabarets, which served as a platform to humorously address ones opinions, and, moreover, from 1988 onwards the Choreographic Workshops. These were non-profit evenings, nowadays known as Switch, with choreographies created and programmed completely by dancers of the NDT. ‘SH-BOOM’ was included as part of those evenings in 1994 and exemplifies the potential of the workshops to function as a stepping stone for future choreographers and artistic directors. Not only to León & Lightfoot, but many others as Nacho Duato, Martin Müller, Jorma Elo, Lukáš Timulak, Johan Inger, Medhi Walerski and Karine Guizzo.[6] The above-mentioned supportive atmosphere would, furthermore, be visualized by many influential names of the nineties – Brigitte Martin, Elke Schepers, Lorraine Blouin, Cora Bos-Kroese, Nancy Euverink, Jean Emile, Jorma Elo, Mário Radačovský and Stefan Żeromski – returning to different layers of the company. Over the years they would explore other (artistic) possibilities and occupations, and pursue their careers as outstanding ballet masters, rehearsal directors or assistants to choreographers.[7]

The Workshop, 1995, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
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Petite Mort Petite MortNederlands Dans Theater

Significant moments

The nineties were also marked by some institutional changes and significant events. After a directorship of more than thirty years Carel Birnie, one of the founding fathers of NDT, stepped down due to health problems. He had been deaf for years, a fact that meant, according to him, that he could justify not having to listen to anybody.[8] A few years later, sadly just before the premiere in May 1995 of ‘Arcimboldo’ – a grand performance by Jiří Kylián to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the company and his own 20th anniversary as artistic director – Carel Birnie passed away.[9] Vivid memories of him, as managing director and, above all, as an extraordinary person who never failed to bring about change, continued to permeate the ethos of the company.

Arcimboldo, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
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At the threshold of the century another pivotal person resigned. Jiří Kylián handed over the artistic direction in 1999, while remaining as a house choreographer until 2009. By this time the subtleties and lyricism of his ballets were deeply ingrained within the company and, moreover, had touched the lives of so many. From his body of works the impressive black and white ballets, performed as a programme at the beginning of the nineties, are impossible to overlook. Each of these ballets – ‘Sechs Tänze’ (1986), ‘No More Play’ (1988), ‘Falling Angels’ (1989), ‘Sweet Dreams’ (1990), ‘Sarabande’ (1990), ‘Un Ballo’ (1990), ‘Petite Mort’ (1991) – are a unique play with bodies, mind, sound and light. Like black and white sketches, however, they all combine to produce a unique palette for the spectator.[10]

Tableau de la Troupe, 1992, From the collection of: Nederlands Dans Theater
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Credits: Story

[1] Jos Hooghuis, ‘Gérard Lemaître: NDT3 is uniek in de danswereld’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 43, 1991; Maartje Wildeman, ‘Sabine Kupferberg, leven met het Nederlands Dans Theater’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 65, 1996.
[2] Jiří Kylián in programme 3, season 1991/1992, NDT 3.
[3] Yearbook Nederlands Dans Theater season 2005/2006, p. 73.
[4] Jos Hooghuis, ‘Arlette van Boven: als iets moeilijk is prikken mijn oren’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 53, 1993; Jos Hooghuis, ‘Arlette van Boven: 25 jaar NDT, geen sleur, maar voortdurende uitdaging’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 54, 1993; Programme 3, season 1987/1988, NDT 2; Programme 3, season 1989/1990, NDT 2.
[5] Jos Hooghuis, ‘Gerald Tibbs en zijn nieuwe leven met NDT 2’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 45, 1991.
[6] Charles A. van Hutten, ‘Choreografie Workshop 1994: Rijke inspiratie, hoge kwaliteit’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 56, 1994; Maartje Wildeman, ‘Choreografie-workshop 1997: creatieve uitlaatklep voor dansers’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 66, 1997.
[7] Just as others had done before them – Roslyn Anderson, for example, who was a characterful dancer during the seventies and important ballet mistress during the nineties.
[8] Pieter Kottman, ‘De ‘tsaar van de dans’ Carel Birnie stopt vanwege zijn onwillige lijf’, NRC Handelsblad, November 20, 1991.
[9] Jos Hooghuis, ‘Carel Birnie’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 59, 1995.
[10] Yvonne Beumkes, ‘Jiří Kylián: Bang het publiek te vervelen?’, Bericht aan de NDT vrienden, nr. 44, 1991; Programme 1, season 1990/1991, NDT 1.

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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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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