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The Point Being?

The Nederlands Dans Theater has been coming to City Center since 1968. The company’s associations with edgy choreographers like Jiri Kylian, Crystal Pite, William Forsythe, and Ohad Naharin have made for some thrilling performances over the years. I remember vividly the excitement in the house when they brought Paul Lightfoot and Sol León’s “Shutters Shut” to the Fall for Dance Festival in 2012 They returned this week with a less stimulating trio of works, including one winner and two stinkers. Although their batting average took a dive, the caliber of their dancing remains as high as ever. I hope they come back through with better things for their dancers to do. 

Performance

Nederlands Dans Theater: “N.N.N.N” by William Forsythe / “The Point Being” by Imre van Opstal and Marne van Opstal / “Jakie” by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar

Place

New York City Center, New York, NY, April 3, 2024

Words

Faye Arthurs

Nederlands Dans Theater in “The Point Being” by Imre van Opstal and Marne van Opstal. Photograph by Rahi Rezvani

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The evening started promisingly, with Forsythe’s “N.N.N.N.,” made for Ballett Frankfurt in 2002. The four Ns stand for anybody, as in any four people—male or female—can dance it. Here, it was performed by four men. To begin, Chuck Jones stood in silence and tossed and caught his own flaccid wrist with his other hand. He tossed it again and caught his arm at the elbow. Thus began an absorbing riff on a playground game; I’d call it body part hacky sack. Jones was joined by Jon Bond, Conner Bormann, and Charlie Skuy—all clad in casual wear like track pants and tees—who tossed and caught each other’s appendages in inventive ways. Forsythe put each hinge in the human body through various tests of force and gravity, making the dance feel like both an anatomy lesson and a structural engineering seminar.   

There was no music that I could discern, though Forsythe’s frequent collaborator Thom Willems was credited with the score. (The non-costumes, scenery, and lighting were by Forsythe.) But the men’s pronounced breathwork and slapping limbs provided accompaniment aplenty. Forsythe said in an interview: “Four N is a music composition that looks like a dance,” and it was described in the program with that old Balanchine nugget, “see the music and hear the dance.” Indeed, the dancers’ hissing and smacking kept them in lockstep, which was necessary given the complexities of their experiments in physical physics. They often caught each other’s heads or used their groins as leverage. Forsythe’s humor was apparent throughout, as when the men slapped their thighs and strolled in a way that reminded me of Monty Python’s knights with coconuts. The audience chuckled frequently. Forsythe also had the men ricochet their arms while linked up in a daisy chain, which was fantastic. They were a cross between a slacker version of Petipa’s four little swans and a Newton’s cradle desk bauble.   

Nederlands Dans Theater in “N.N.N.N” by William Forsythe. Photograph by Rahi Rezvani

Unfortunately, the good vibes generated by Forsythe’s witty opener were quashed by the US premiere of “The Point Being”—the worst piece I’ve seen in a very long time. Former NDT dancers Imre van Opstal and Marne van Opstal (siblings) choreographed this endless exercise in nothingness, in collaboration with Dutch designer Lonneke Gordijn and DRIFT, who did the pointless sets and dim lighting.  All the tritest contemporary trends were on display here, and not much else. There were blah beige costumes, searchlights, random smoke effects, and dimly lit hanging things that ascended and descended for no apparent reason. The score, by Amos Ben-Tal/OFFprojects, was also on trend in the worst way: simple guitar refrains and string chords were set against clanging noises, gongs, train-engine chugging, and airport tarmac droning. The choreography was a derivative grab bag of slow walking, exaggeratedly turned in feet, odd head angles, tweaky fits, cradled lifts, lurking, and everyone’s current favorite: group tableaux with held hands and half-hugs and stoic faces. I haven’t walked out of anything yet as a reviewer, but I had a hard time staying in my seat for this one.  

When a couple started to reprise their insipid opening pas de deux there was audible groaning and wiggling in the seats all around me. This repeat was torture; we hadn’t come to a new place or understanding, it was just more of the self-important same. The addition of slomo piggyback ride sure didn’t help. We were finally put out of our misery when this pair turned away from each other while holding hands and started walking offstage as the curtain came down, how original. The spa music didn’t even have an ending, the volume simply faded out. Woof. I must report that a faction of the audience stood and cheered during the bows. I, however, fantasized about throwing tomatoes. Rest assured, I would never. You can’t blame dancers for bad ballets. And one dancer in particular—Kele Roberson—was so dynamically coordinated that whenever he was noodling around onstage at least there was a watchable element. 

Nederlands Dans Theater in “The Point Being” by Imre van Opstal and Marne van Opstal. Photograph by Rahi Rezvani

The last piece, the US premiere of Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s “Jakie,” was slightly better only because it was slightly weirder, with dilophosaur flapping and spitting.  When the curtain went up, two shadowy figures hovered on demi pointe like frogs in formaldehyde. But the fact that “Jakie” was also beige (the nude bodystockings were by Eyal), and darkly lit (by Along Cohen), and strangely tweaky, didn’t help. The score, by Ori Lichtik and Ruichi Sakamoto, was similar too. There were whooshing snowstorm sounds and drum and bass elements in addition to the repetitive chords and metallic pulsing. If the bugs from Jerome Robbins’s “The Cage” went clubbing, it would look like “Jakie.”  

If the bugs were also neutered and cuffed at the ankles, that is. The steps in “Jakie” were incredibly circumscribed, piddly. The dancers held their ears oddly with their fingers while gyrating in very limited ranges in a wedge for most of this overlong dance. Towards the end they fanned out into lines and did a few low split jumps, like ageing rock stars. Conner Bormann’s oversized emboîtés were the highlight. It took me a while to realize that the costumes were see-through because it all felt so prudish. The cast faced back much of the time. I think “Jakie” was meant to look erotic and cool, but the dancers looked like a bunch of wallflowers self-consciously bopping. The ear hold made it seem like they were all locked off in their own set of headphones.  

Nederlands Dans Theater in Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s “Jakie.” Photograph by Rahi Rezvani

I get that we live in a stressful time, and people are uneasy. But I can’t believe that so many choreographers only want to express anxious estrangement, and they all want to express it in the same eerily mincing way. “The Point Being” and “Jakie” were from 2023, but I’ve been over these gimmicks since even before the pandemic. Especially now, these tired tropes of isolation feel put on. At a certain point, these choreographers have to take some comfort in the fact that there are so many of them who are into mechanical sounds, obscure lighting, and faux emoting. “If you like piña coladas…”  

The Forsythe piece was light and comical, yet it contained far more bite. “The Point Being” and “Jakie” were indistinctly menacing, but there was no real danger in either one. There was danger, however, in the intricate counterweighting and catches of “4N.” Forsythe turned the body into puzzle pieces, but his cast rearranged those pieces through alpha dog challenges. The “4N” quartet engaged in teamwork but also battles for dominance, with the men blocking each other from leaving the stage or one-upping each other’s grips on someone’s head. It felt like there were actual stakes, not just mopey pageantry. And though “The Point Being” and “Jakie” were striving to sell their alienation, Forsythe outdid them there too. It’s hard to think of a better depiction of disaffectedness than chucking one’s own limp limb at another person’s face.  Now that’s detachment.       

Faye Arthurs


Faye Arthurs is a former ballet dancer with New York City Ballet. She chronicled her time as a professional dancer in her blog Thoughts from the Paint. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Fordham University. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and their sons.

comments

Rachel Howard

Thanks, I prefer reading you to the NY Times. I feel like I was there. The description of Forsythe’s work is wonderfully clear.

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