What it's like to be part of the Nederlands Dans Theater

What it's like to be part of the Nederlands Dans Theater

credit: Rahi Rezvani

Dancer Roger Van der Poel and choreographic duo Sol León and Paul Lightfoot share their experiences

'You should audition for NDT,' a friend said to Roger Van der Poel, when he was still training in his native Portugal. Van der Poel had heard of the company, but never seen them. A few video clips later, it was clear to him that Nederlands Dans Theater was out of his league.

Fast forward two years and the 22-year-old is performing in a Swiss dance company when yet another friend suggests the same thing – as does a visiting teacher. 'I said I could never join NDT, they're way too good,' recalls Van der Poel. 'But they insisted I went to the audition, so eventually I did – and I was one of the lucky ones.'

Watching him dance on stage, it's clear 'luck' had nothing to do with it. Van der Poel is pure NDT: technically strong, emotionally communicative and able to adapt to a wide range of choreographic styles.

All of which has been refined and honed over time, first dancing with the younger company NDT 2 (an experience which Van der Poel describes as 'amazing, a great energy, very intense') before moving up to the main company in 2009.

Back then, was there an expectation he would be accepted into NDT when his three years with NDT2 were up?

'I think there is always an inner hope that you'll get offered a contract with the main company,' says Van der Poel with a smile. 'For me there definitely was. It depends on how many contracts become available at the end of the season, but when I talked to the director, he said they'd love me to join the company, which was amazing.'

The word 'amazing' comes up a lot with Van der Poel, but small wonder – NDT is amazing to watch, so it stands to reason it's amazing to dance in. Not that it always works like that, but for Van der Poel, the Hague-based company is 'home' and the rest of the dancers his 'family'.

What it's like to be part of the Nederlands Dans Theater

In which case, sitting at the top of that family tree, must be surrogate mum and dad Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. The choreographic duo have created over 50 works for NDT in the past 25 years, including Shoot The Moon and Stop-Motion, both of which will appear in the company's upcoming triple-bill at the Edinburgh International Festival.

The pieces created by the León / Lightfoot partnership are known for their theatricality and emotional intensity. Audiences love them – but what's it like working with the duo?

'Shoot the Moon and Stop-Motion are both emotionally charged pieces,' says Van der Poel. 'And there is more storytelling behind them than in some of Paul and Sol's other works, so right before we start a creation, they always tell us the theme or idea for the piece and explain the ideas behind the set.

'And then Paul usually creates the more technical side of things, building the steps – and Sol will adjust the storyline and feeling, saying this should go here, this is too much, this should be longer, that kind of thing. They really complement each other, and I think that's what makes their work so special – the combination of how they work together.'

From the outside looking in, NDT is one of the most revered dance companies in the world – but according to Van der Poel, from the inside, it looks pretty special, too.

'I think we're all aware of the importance of the name NDT has created for itself over a long period of time,' he says. 'And we can tell by the level of choreographers that come in to work with us – big, top-notch people that maybe other companies try to get and can't, but we are the lucky ones.' Again, luck has nothing to do with it …

Nederlands Dans Theater, Playhouse, 21–23 August, 7.30pm, £11–£35.

Nederlands Dans Theater

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Considered by many to be the finest dance company in the world, Nederlands DansTheater has taken a radically progressive path since its founding in 1959 – and has a long history of acclaimed dance theatre shows at the International Festival. Blurring movement, theatre and exquisite stage images, NDT is a breeding ground…

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