COSTA MESA — It's easy to think of the three companies that form Nederlands Dans Theater as the past, present and future of European modernism. But Jiri Kylian's dance empire always confounds expectations, so over the weekend we saw "the past" (NDT-3 with dancers over 40) doing severe, futuristic pieces, and "the future" (NDT-2, with dancers 17-22) doing sweet, nostalgic ones in two shared programs Friday and Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Besides the five works seen and reviewed in Glendale earlier in the week, the companies danced five more that were new to the Southland--including three choreographed and designed by Kylian himself. Each featured unusual decor: an overhead grid of four dozen candles ("Un Ballo," 1991), a huge metal pendulum continually circling the stage ("Compass," 1996), an arsenal of moving panels that continually redefined the space available for dancing ("Trompe l'Oeil," 1996).
Kylian's first choreography for NDT-2, "Un Ballo" began with three overlapping duets to the minuet from Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin," then expanded to seven simultaneous duets to "Pavane pour une infante defunte." Cooly, even gravely lyrical, the piece had great formal beauty but also powerful emotional undercurrents that periodically surfaced in passages of engulfing turbulence. A magnificent full-company showpiece.
In "Compass," Kylian's relentless pendulum and the tolling bells in Stockhausen's "Musik in Bauch" made the weight of time palpable--indeed, inescapable--as four members of NDT-3 energetically avoided the inevitable, rebelled against it and ultimately accepted it. The final moments glorified them not as individuals but collectively as dancers--or as dance itself.
A very different Kylian vehicle for NDT-3, "Trompe L'Oeil" used a patchwork score for a loosely organized, neo-Expressionist celebration of the lies, silliness and artifice of theater. The highlight, perhaps: a mock-classical pas de deux for Martine van Hamel and Gerard Lemaitre interrupted by a call on his cellular phone. As the duet continued, the phone-antenna became incorporated choreographically as a quasi-pendulum, sword and, um, sexual appendage. Ah, metaphor.
Recent works for NDT-2 by Hans van Manen and Paul Lightfoot exploited the dramatic rejection of formalism that music visualization has undergone in the '90s. In his 1995 duet "Deja Vu," Van Manen made the story of a relationship motivate every change of mood or impetus in "Fratres" by Arvo Part. Shirley Esseboom and Fabrice Mazliah danced with great power and intensity.
Lightfoot's 1996 quartet "Skew-Whiff" seemed to mock the very idea of music visualization by piling up so many twitchy, floppy, crotch-grabbing movement non sequiturs that their perfect synchronization with the alternately rollicking and frenzied overture to Rossini's "La Gazza Ladra" seemed both demented and miraculous. Call it the dance equivalent of constructing a scale model of the Taj Mahal from toothpicks and gum-wrappers.
Master wunderkind of the cast: Patrick Marin, flailing on the floor like a beached barracuda, but so brilliantly propelling himself into the air on each beat that the whole audience gasped.