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Nederlands Dans Theater returns to Seoul after 16 years

Nederlands Dans Theater is holding three concerts at Seoul Arts Center between Friday and Sunday, marking its first visit to Seoul since 2002.

Leading the cutting-edge contemporary dance company are artistic director Paul Lightfoot and artistic adviser Sol Leon. The two have been working for the company for some 30 years, in the past as dancers and choreographers, and now as the heads in charge.

“It has been many years since the company has not been returning to Seoul. For us, it’s very significant moment. I am really grateful to be back and share where the company is now because the company is always creating new works,” Lightfoot said during a press conference held Thursday at Seoul Arts Center.

Nederlands Dans Theater‘s artistic director Paul Lightfoot (left) and artistic advisor Sol Leon (right) join a press conference held at Seoul Arts Center on Thursday, Seoul. (SAC)
Nederlands Dans Theater‘s artistic director Paul Lightfoot (left) and artistic advisor Sol Leon (right) join a press conference held at Seoul Arts Center on Thursday, Seoul. (SAC)

For the Seoul performance, the company is presenting three works from its vast repertoire, offering local audiences the opportunity to catch up on the last 16 years of the dance company.

They include “Stop-Motion” and “Safe as Houses,” -- already widely performed works of the company. In addition to the two, which Leon called their “two pillars,” there is also “Walk the Demon” in the middle, created by choreographer Marco Goecke. “Walk the Demon” had its world premiere in September this year.

“Stop-Motion” is a piece in part about the past moments we wish could have lasted forever, Leon explained while recalling their last visit to Seoul in 2002, when Leon and Lightfoot’s then-4-year-old daughter Saura came with them. “Stop-Motion” -- their 2014 choreographic work -- features delicate yet strong choreographic movements that fall on a backdrop of black-and-white images focusing on their daughter. Performed to the reminiscent music of Max Richter, “Stop-Motion” intensifies the emotion of the music.

Another piece to be introduced is “Safe as Houses,” NDT’s 2001 work grounded in the Chinese Book of Changes and Bach’s scores.

“When we choreograph, there is no direct narrative. We are not telling story. It is always about emotionally where we are, ideas that connect and the feelings that we want to project,” Lightfoot said.

Instead of having a certain narrative, the company’s works rather make extensive uses of various music, ranging from classical music to the contemporary.

“The music of Bach -- used in ‘Safe as Houses’ and also in general -- has certain spirituality,” Lightfoot said. Lightfoot also added that the music of Bach and spirituality it delivers strike him more now than in the past.

“I was very much focused on the physics of the piece, the wall that never stops turning once it begins. It (“Safe as Houses”) was very much about the space and how we are dealing with it,” Lightfoot recalled.

“But I notice now after 20 years that part for me is past. I am not religious person, but I am very interested in different spiritualties. This piece for me is perhaps the closest we came till now to talking a bit about spirituality,” Lightfoot added.

The final work to be introduced is “Walk the Demon” by Marco Goecke. The piece that had its world premiere in the last month also features movements written to music. In addition to orchestral works by Czech composer Pavel Haas and Finn composer Pehr Hendrik Nordgren, Goecke has made bold and powerful bodily expressions of Antony and the Johnsons.

NDT is famous for pushing boundaries of contemporary dance through creative invention and its strong yet elaborated choreography. The company is also well known as its former director, Jiri Kylian, the most influential choreographer of his generation, led the dance company from 1975-2000.

“You cannot only live in the past. It is beautiful to see the traditional ballet. To see a ‘Swan Lake’ is very beautiful to dream. But I don’t think you can only (be) allowed to dream in dance because you can do so much more, and that is where (it) crosses the line to the contemporary,” said Leon.

“You need to receive whatever you need to receive for that moment. Don’t ever try to understand the dance. It is about feeling,” Leon added.

The upcoming performances of NDT are part of Seoul Arts Center’s program that marks its 30th anniversary this year.

By Shim Woo-hyun (