New artistic director brings innovation and solid European experience
Next week, one of the world’s leading contemporary dance companies, Nederlands Dans Theater, begins its U.S. tour in Brooklyn. NDT1, as the main company is known, has risen to acclaim under the artistic direction of Prague-born Ji&Mac249;rí Kylian, who has created more than 50 works for the company in his 25-year tenure, as well as spinning off NDT2, for young dancers, and NDT3 for seasoned performers.
The BAM performances feature two programs, including four U.S. premieres by Kylian, and his grand dance prayer set to Stravinsky, 1978’s “Symphony of Psalms,” along with a new work by NDT alumnus Johan Inger, entitled “Walking Mad.”
The tour comes as the company is undergoing a change in artistic direction. Kylian officially stepped down in 1999, although he remained the artistic advisor. This January, the affable Anders Hellstrom was named the new artistic director, chosen for his experience in initiating innovation.
Born in Sweden, he was educated at the Royal Ballet School and danced with the Royal Swedish Ballet from 1980 to 1984. After four years in Sweden, the young dancer wanted to work with a host choreographer, so at 21 he joined the Hamburg Ballett and became its principal dancer. Nine years later, Hellstrom headed south to Frankfurt and William Forsythe.
“I had not planned to be there so long,” Hellstrom recalled.
He danced with Ballett Frankfurt for six years.
“It was fantastic,” Hellstrom said. “It was another approach to dancing and to working. I’m not looking down on the company I had been with, but when I left Hamburg, I thought I knew a lot. It was a good lesson.”
Inevitably, given all of his experience, former colleagues and friends back home in Sweden approached Hellstrom about a position as the ballet director in the city of Göteborg.
“I thought it was too early to stop dancing,” said Hellstrom, “but I also wanted to go back.”
In 1999, he became the artistic director for the city’s troupe of 40 dancers, and is credited with transforming it from a traditional ballet company into a contemporary troupe.
“It was a rather thrilling and exciting time,” he recalled. “It was not easy. I had been appointed to change the company, to introduce contemporary, established choreographers and new creations. I had to change, slowly but surely, the dancers, the company, and the house, the audience. Our backbone was that we always got fantastic critics.” Hellstrom spoke about the professionalism of his dancers. “The dancers coming in there were good, curious, wanting. They were a special group.”
After three years of long weeks and little administrative help, Hellstrom decided to move on. After a dance career that was charmed, he moved to Copenhagen to teach, travel, and reflect. It was there that he was approached, at first informally, about NDT.
“Ballett Frankfurt and NDT were like sibling companies, guesting in each other’s cities a lot,” Hellstrom said, “so there are many old friends and colleagues.”
After two months of discussions, he signed a contract.
His mission for the future of NDT?
“To create and facilitate inventive new creations and maintain the heritage of the company at the same time.”
Presumably, that mission includes safeguarding a modern sensibility and cultivating choreographers from the ranks.
Program A includes three Kylian premieres. “Last Touch” is set to music by German composer Dirk Haubrich and dancers dressed in Victorian costumes. “27 feet 52 inches” uses text from the Dalai Lama and Baudelaire. Program B includes “Symphony of Psalms” and the premiere of Kylian’s “Click-Pause-Silence” and “Walking Mad.”