Nov. 16, the famed Netherlands Dans Theater swings into New York’s City Center for a brief season (Nov. 16-19) that highlights the qualities that earned it an international reputation for pushing dance’s boundaries, namely, bold repertory and what one critic called “the world’s most magnificent dancers displaying a retina-shredding sxpectacle of passion and power.”
Founded in 1959, NDT grew out of a 1959 break with the more traditional classical Dutch National Ballet that was motivated by the desire to blend classical and modern dance while focusing on experimentation and innovation. Over the years it has built a rich repertoire of works by such masters as Jiri Kylian and Hans van Manen. Today, under the Artistic Director Paul Lightfoot, house choreographer with partner Sol Leon, the company is considered one of the world’s most prolific and creative dance companies.
Lightfoot has identified the company as a dance theater in which music, film, lighting and set design are key, but “nitty-gritty choreographic craft comes first.” That puts the dancers front and center.
One such dancer, featured on a poster for NDT’s 2016 New York season showing a bare chested brown-skinned male in white pants hunched over and lunging into a pool of light as a cloud of smoke rises from the floor, is Prince Credell, a native New Yorker who was
born and bred in the Bronx.
“This is my fourth year with NDT,” Credell said during an interview after NDT’s success in the Fall for Dance festival. “Before that, I worked with Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson in Complexions, Alonso King’s LINES Ballet and with Ailey II, where I started.”
In fact, Credell grew up in the Ailey School. “I was there from 1996 to 2000 when I graduated from high school,” he said. “I was offered a contract at Ailey II but I wanted to train a bit longer, so I went to the San Francisco Ballet School for about a year, then came back and joined the company.”
He added, “I’ve always tried to balance both ballet and contemporary dance. But at one point, when I was really young, I thought I had to concentrate more on ballet, so that’s where the San Francisco Ballet training comes in. I also studied with American Ballet Theatre.”
That might also be what makes NDT such a perfect fit for him. Still, joining NDT was more by chance than design. “A friend who belonged to NDT said the company was looking for a male dancer,” he explained. “NDT didn’t fill openings by holding auditions, but by inviting dancers to take company
class.” That is what he did.
“I got lucky and the timing was right,” he said.
Of course, Credell is not the first Black dancer, ballet or modern, to join a European company. Decades ago, when Raven Wilkinson’s groundbreaking career with the American-based Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo hit American ballet’s racial glass ceiling, she joined the Dutch National Ballet. Today, that same company features the beautiful brown-skinned ballerina Michaela DePrince (formerly with Dance Theater of Harlem) performing the lead in such classics as “The Nutcracker,” so far a rare sight in the U.S., even in the Misty Copeland era. Although American modern dance has had a somewhat more open door policy, over the years Black modern dancers have also found an artistic home away from home in Europe or Canada as they either fled the restraints of racism or simply sought something new.
Proud of his company’s ethnic and national diversity, Artistic Director Lightfoot has compared it to a mini-United Nations. Credell takes note of this country’s recent focus on diversity but adds that being out of the country can be liberating. “It’s interesting that it’s become such a hot topic, but I feel I have to remove myself from that and just be the artist doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said.
Credell admits he does get homesick and manages to come home a couple of times a year but says he truly enjoys the NDT experience. “For me, one of the best things about the company is its diversity,” he said. “There is so much energy to feed off of with the other dancers. It’s not about imitating or copying them, but about being inspired.”
The experience has clearly paid off. Citing Credell’s featured performance in a Lightfoot-Leon work, “Sehnsucht,” a technically demanding exploration of longing and yearning, one Australian critic gushed, “Soloist Prince Credell’s was outstanding as his athleticism and freedom of movement captivated us all.”
Although “Sehnsucht” isn’t on the New York City Center season program, other exciting works are that innovatively blend dance, theater and other visual arts (film, lighting and set design). And, at the heart of it all is the explosive energy and technical brilliance of NDT’s challenging choreography and dancers such as Credell who excite and delight.