Their journey stops short

By Thea Singer
Globe Correspondent / April 17, 2009
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The vibrant young dancers of the Nederlands Dans Theater II are all dressed up with hardly anywhere to go.

It's a terrific shame, because these talented performers, all between the ages of 17 and 22, have the technical chops and the steely conviction to realize a host of aesthetic visions. But the choreographers shaping their roles - Jiri Kylian, the troupe's founder and the artistic director of the original Nederlands Dans Theater for 24 years, and Lightfoot Leon (Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon), the husband-and-wife team who became NDT's resident choreographers in 2002 - put the kibosh last night on their traveling the distance. Literally. The pieces - save one - were sterile and static, despite, ironically, their nonstop permutational movement. They left me cold.

That one, "Shutters Shut" (2003), went by in the blink of an eye. Just four minutes long, this duet - danced with crackling wit by Jin Young Won and Anton Valdbauer - brings Gertrude Stein's 1912 poem "If I told him: A completed portrait of Picasso" to snapping life. Lightfoot Leon's gestural vocabulary - scratches and tongue licks, head wags and he-man posturing - translates Stein's perseverative rhythmic meanderings into a whole new medium. It's not a music but a word visualization - each syllable, each beat embodied and made full-blown.

Lightfoot Leon's other two offerings - "Said and Done" (2001) to overpowering Bach, and "Sad Case" (1998), to songs by Perez Prado, Ray Baretto, and others - were, from a movement perspective, largely interchangeable. Backs slithered or undulated, butts shook, legs jangled, partners turned one another inside out or upside down - with quiet aplomb. Duets or solos played against groups of various sizes. Those not in the spotlight hung suspended, hunched over, or doing their own thing; in "Said and Done" black feathers rained down on a lone man who clasped a bicep, opened his mouth in a silent scream, etc., for unknown reasons.

Kylian's contribution, "Sleepless" (2004), to Dirk Haubrich's take on Mozart's Adagio in C-minor (bangs, crackles, glass harmonica added), slammed two concepts into one. A dance for three couples and six vinyl panels, it interspersed optical illusions with sinewy duets with, disturbingly, a tinge of misogyny at their core. Heads, arms, and feet jutted out, elongated, or were sucked back behind the panels. Carolina Mancuso - a lanky, slithering standout in green bodice and tiny shorts - fairly tied her limbs in knots then unraveled the strings. How wonderful if she could have taken flight.

NEDERLANDS DANS THEATER II Presented by Celebrity Series

of Boston

At: Tsai Performance Center,

Boston University, last night

(program repeats tonight)