Sadler's Wells; Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
NDT2 is an offshoot of Nederlands Dans Theater, the contemporary dance ensemble that achieved worldwide fame in the latter decades of the 20th century under Czech choreographer Jir� Kyli�n. It was founded in 1978 so that younger professional dancers could gain stage experience before progressing to the parent company.
The cultural history of NDT is instructive. In the 1970s and 80s the repertoire, mostly neoclassical work by Kyli�n, was edgy and atmospheric. Over the years, however, Kyli�n's work became more purely aesthetic. The dancers' bodies, previously generators of emotion and meaning, became increasingly objectified, and works such as Bella Figura (1995), with its tricksy staging, lush costuming and coy female nudity, heralded a new depthless choreography ? essentially an assembling of luxurious style elements ? to which audiences could attach any meaning or significance they chose.
Gods and Dogs (2008), the central piece in NDT2's opening programme at Sadler's Wells, is archetypal late-period Kyli�n. The design elements are striking, with Kees Tjebbes's lighting painting the dancers in brooding chiaroscuro as they engage in flickering, serpentine duets to a Beethoven string quartet. If the piece has no obvious subject beyond a general angst (the silent scream, that long-exhausted cliche, makes several appearances), Kyli�n sustains our moment-to-moment interest through his exquisitely jointed choreography and the dancers' refined plastique.
Paul Lightfoot, who became artistic director of NDT last September, is very much a Kyli�n disciple, as is evident in Passe-Partout (2009). Created with his long-term partner Sol Le�n, the piece presents two ripped-looking guys in designer suits without shirts, another couple given to tortured face-making (more silent screams) and hyena-like vocalisation, and a woman of depressed, Strindbergian aspect in a costume that intermittently reveals her breasts. The dancing, set like much of Le�n and Lightfoot's output to Philip Glass, is extreme, all slick hyperextensions and sky-high develop�s. There's a vague theme of liminality, suggested by the sliding black-on-black set, but Passe-Partout's real subject is its own hyperstyled surface. Le�n and Lightfoot's focus on this is so unblinking, and the whole event so redolent of an upscale product launch, that you half-expect a new BMW prototype to glide on stage.
Cacti, the evening's final piece, is by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman. An arch send-up of postmodern dance, it places the 16-strong ensemble on giant Scrabble tiles and submits them to a series of specious rituals that sees them variously twitching, clapping, stepping and running on the spot to a mash-up of classical compositions and spoken dance theory. In the end we discover (I think) that the piece is "about" the titular potted cacti, which the dancers deploy with obvious meaninglessness. Tactfully, Ekman withholds the silent screams.
Blanca Li is a Spanish choreographer who has been based for the past 20 years in Paris where she has worked in a wide range of disciplines, from experimental contemporary dance to flamenco to hip-hop. For Elektro Kif, her latest venture, she has assembled a company of eight young street dancers from Val-de-Marne, near Paris. Elektro is a high-speed fusion of popping and locking that is much brighter and larkier in mood than any of the UK hip-hop variants. There's a retro feel to it too, with disco rhythms often providing a foundation for twitchy body moves and dazzlingly fluid wrists and arms. Li gives structure to the show by placing it within the school day, so we see the performers hang out, goof around in class, shoot a few hoops and chew their way through a dining-hall meal ? all of it Elektro-animated.
There's a very Parisian freshness and charm about it all, with well-observed vignettes about the boringness of regimented lessons and the fun of cheating in exams. Pace-wise, though, the show could use more light and shade. Seventy-five minutes of Tao Gutierrez's unvaryingly upbeat score is just too much.