Canada’s connection is strong in Nederlands Dance Theatre

A scene from the Nederlands Dans Theater's VLADIMIR. Photo: Rahi Rezvani

The connections between Canada and the Netherlands dot this city every spring as tens of thousands of tulips bloom across the city.

But the ties extend beyond this annual floral celebration that began after the Second World War in recognition for Canada’s part in the liberation of The Netherlands and Ottawa’s role in hosting the Dutch royal family during the war and aiding the birth of a Dutch princess in the Civic Hospital.

Evidence of the relationship exists in one of the world’s great contemporary dance companies, the Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT).

The company has many links with Canada including the incoming artistic director Emily Molnar, who left Ballet BC after a decade and Crystal Pite (Kidd Pivot herself), who is also from Vancouver and is the company’s associate choreographer.

There is another connection from B.C.’s lower mainland. The dancer Paxton Ricketts is part of the company that will dance in Southam Hall March 17 and 18.

The company was coming to the NAC until the COVID-19 virus changed plans.

Crystal Pite’s The Statement is on the program for Nederlands Dans Theater. Photo: Rahi Rezvani

For Paxton Ricketts, the road to a career in dance started at home. His mother, Kathryn Ricketts, had a modern dance company in Denmark where she lived for a decade. When she returned to Vancouver, she started a modern dance school and also taught at Arts Umbrella, an art school. As a kid, Paxton would tag along and he was in the studio a lot.

Interestingly enough, his first real dance experience was with Ballet BC at age four. In fact, Molnar who taught at Arts Umbrella as well, danced in that performance. Eventually he became more comfortable with the idea of dancing and just kept going.

After his education he went into dancing professionally and his second gig was with NDT. His first job was with Wen Wei Dance in Vancouver. After that he was accepted into NDT’s young company (NDT II).

“NDT puts out a lot of videos of what they were working on. This spread the knowledge of the company and put the idea of working with NDT in my mind.”

One of his teachers at Arts Umbrella brought in a lot of people who had worked at NDT to work with her students.

“They brought a lot of knowledge about the company with them and I really wanted to get there.”

In his last year of school he auditioned for the company. It was a bit of a process.

He spent a week working with the company, taking class, learning repertoire and showing some of his own stuff including a solo work choreographed by Wen Wei Wang.

He was encouraged to then go through the public audition to really prove himself to the company managers. That meant another long flight to The Hague in The Netherlands from Vancouver where he joined some 350 other dancers in what he called “one of the hardest days of my life.”

Paxton Ricketts.

He survived the ordeal and was invited to join NDT II which is for dancers between 17 and 22. He started in August 2014. It was a place to discover how he would fit into the dance world.

He stayed in NDT II for three years and then was accepted into NDT I, the company that will be in Ottawa. He is the only Canadian dancing in NDT I.

“I really wanted to move up because the company has so much diversity on the dancers and in the repertoire. We do pieces from the 1970s and 1980s and we also do tons of new creations every year. You learn a lot about different styles of movement and also what speaks to you as an artist by trying all these different styles.

“NDT is a repertoire company that does a broad array of contemporary dance but still with a high level of technique. The dancers, even though every one has a beautiful spectrum of capabilities, every one is at a really high level of those capabilities. Even if we are different, every one of my colleagues is great at what they do.” They also come from all over the world.

Ricketts is 25. Most of the dancers are in their 20s and 30s, but there are two dancers over 40.

He does think about the future, only natural because the professional career is relatively short. “I am loving dancing for the company and I’m really excited about Emily Molnar joining. I think she’ll bring new things to the company.”

NDT is touring three pieces: VLADIMIR choreographed by Hofesh Shechter, The Statement by Crystal Pite and Singulière Odyssée by Sol León and the company’s outgoing artistic director, Paul Lightfoot.

The Statement by Pite is from 2016. Ricketts says that NDT does a piece a year by her.

“We have a lot of interaction with her. She’s another person I grew idolizing,” he said. “Wherever they were performing in Vancouver I would see every one of them.

The tour “will be the first time we perform VLADIMIR at the beginning of an evening because it’s quite a raw piece. Hofesh is a very direct person. He puts it all out there with his sense of humour and with his artistic vision. He doesn’t hold anything back. It can be challenging to an audience. I’m dancing in that piece and I love it. It’s fun to dance.”

Shechter also composed the music for the piece (he was a rock drummer at one point) and Ricketts says that makes for a strong connection between the movement and the music in VLADIMIR. Apparently Shechter was inspired by what he saw in the 1980s in Russia, an era of glasnost and perestroika and anything goes kind of mood swings.

The final piece on the program is Singulière Odyssée. Photo: Rahi Rezvani

“There is an edginess about the dancers and the way they move.” There is also a dash of the anti-social British street culture of the chavs.

“For the dancers it’s exhausting and exhilarating because pumping all this energy out for 30 minutes.”

The Statement is short, he said, (19 minutes). It’s based around a business meeting with four dancers, each of whom have a recorded voice with text by Pite’s regular collaborator Jonathan Young.

The final piece is by the choreographic duo Sol León and Paul Lightfoot. Its set is inspired by the old train station in Basel, Switzerland, and the dance is a reflection on travel and transformation.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.