“After a performance by NDT 2, I get all excited myself.”

Dance fans. The Netherlands is full of them. Although some are more fanatical than others. On the eve of the premiere of NDT 2’s The beauty of it all, we spoke with Castor Smiet. Two and a half years ago he saw a performance by Nederlands Dans Theater for the first time and … he was immediately sold. ‘All I could think was: I must see this more often, do this more often. I was totally overwhelmed.’

Text: Astrid van Leeuwen

Photo: Ennya Larmit

With a mother on the board and behind the counter of the NDT Friends, opportunities to see Nederlands Dans Theater were plentiful. But for teenage son Castor, it didn’t have to be that way. ‘For years I thought I had absolutely nothing to do with dance.’ Until one of the questions on his final art history exam in 2021 showed him an excerpt from the second act Giselle. ‘With those magical creatures, the wilis, who dance men to death. I thought that was so cool that – even though I was in the middle of an exam – I played the excerpt twice.’ Not long after, it turned out that his mother, Mariëlle Bevers, had tickets to the opening of the dance theater in Amare. Castor went along and, completely unexpectedly, was “intensely gripped” by Skin of the mind, the double-bill presented by NDT 1 that evening. ‘The first piece (Bedroom Folk by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar – ed.) was not extremely long, but it was incredibly intense. The dancers dribbled on their toes all the time and held a tremendous tension in everything they did, even in the smallest movements. It was almost magic,’ he says. ‘And the work after the intermission (Alan Lucien Øyens Tell your mom you love your skin – ed.) was also impressive, precisely because of the combination of dance, text and mime. Although the text seemed to have little meaning, the recurring motifs created a very special effect. Just like the dancers who were tiptoeing in the background, as if they were wearing invisible heels. I thought that was so clever: that you could achieve such an effect with something so simple, as if the dancers were making long, stately steps. At the end, to my astonishment, one spectator shouted a sustained boo, causing my mother and I to almost clap our hands together to drown him out. Once outside, all I could think was: I must see this more often, do this more often. I was totally overwhelmed.’

Philosophy and bassoon

Castor – now 20 – grew up with music. ‘My father listened a lot to jazz and black music, and other than that, Bach or Samuel Barber was always on on Sunday mornings.’ When Castor was six, he took recorder lessons with his sister. The drum kit followed shortly after, and after about three years it became the saxophone. ‘I usually got bored quickly.’ But once in high school, Castor knew one thing for sure: he wanted to join the school orchestra. ‘Then the saxophone is of little use, and so the conductor pushed a bassoon into my hands. I took lessons, played both instruments at first, but soon found I liked classical more than jazz, also because I don’t like improvisation very much.’

Meanwhile, Castor is studying philosophy in Leiden, but in addition, as a bassoonist, he is taking the three-year Practicum Musicae – offered by his university – at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, as well as being a member of both the VU Orchestra and the Netherlands Youth Orchestra. That he has now discovered a new passion in the same building where he takes his bassoon lessons – Amare – makes life, he says, even more fun. ‘Unlike with music, with dance I can surrender myself totally and without judgment to the experience. With music I now have too much knowledge, you can hear every minuscule mistake. With dance I lack that knowledge, I don’t know exactly what makes a good dance, and that’s precisely why I can get completely carried away. Especially with Nederlands Dans Theater, where every performance is so good and of such a high level, that I always have a wow-feeling afterwards.’

'Minus 16' by Ohad Naharin. Photo: Rahi Rezvani

That you can achieve such an effect with something so simple

How do they get it done?

Since his baptism of fire, he has seen almost every NDT programme. ‘I am fortunate to have one of the best companies in the world around the corner, so to speak, and for the student fare of ten euros I don’t have to miss out.’ Sometimes he goes with his sister, sometimes with friends, often alone. ‘I always read up a bit, watch a trailer, but intentionally – precisely so I can enjoy myself without inhibitions – I don’t delve deeply into what I get to see.’

He does not necessarily have a favorite choreographer, and ballet titles often escape him, but he remembers precisely the moments that impressed him most. These can be details: ‘The constant stretching of an ever-shaking, trembling leg.’ But also the power and dynamics of a complete choreography, as with Tao Ye’s 15. ‘A super-rhythmic work, in which, as a spectator, you also undergo the continuous effort, as it were, yourself, and you wonder: how on earth do they manage it?’ But Castor, he says, can also really enjoy creations that may require less effort, but which make you think quite a bit, such as, for example, the work of Imre and Marne van Opstal. ‘The only thing I don’t get very enthusiastic about are works in which the message is laid on too thickly.’ Laughs: ‘I don’t need clowns parading across the stage.’

'27'52"' by Jiří Kylián. Photo: Joris-Jan Bos

Downright liberating

Photo: Ennya Larmit

Although he is definitely a fan of both groups, Castor – not surprisingly given his age – feels extra affinity with NDT 2, Nederlands Dans Theater’s youth company. ‘NDT 1 is, of course, super-professional, everything is clean, sharp, polished to perfection and controlled, but because of that I sometimes miss the risk and fun a little. Just as with many orchestras, the novelty has worn off a bit, while that is exactly what is so cool. With NDT 2 everything is still fresh and sparkling; when I leave the theater after an NDT 2 performance, I am absolutely buzzing and my fingers are tingling.’

Castor himself only dances in clubs. He goes out a lot and calls dancing ‘downright liberating’. ‘Lately I’ve even thought sometimes: shouldn’t I still take lessons? But I would probably constantly ask myself: am I doing it right? Just like with music I would strive too hard for perfection, while I also know that perfection is not a state, but reveals itself at most in short moments. Moments when you know: this is what I’m doing it all for!’

He did sign up last year, as a bassoonist, for the dance, music and theater project Paradiso! of Introdans. ‘Due to health problems I eventually couldn’t participate in the performances, but the rehearsals alone were wonderful. I felt such a click with the dancers and choreographers Adriaan Luteijn and Chantal de Vries, and it was so wonderful to see how all their ideas and the three disciplines came together.’ So yes, if Nederlands Dans Theater ever initiates a project like this, he knows it. Enthusiastically: ‘Then I will definitely be there! I think it would be so incredibly cool!’

From: Dance Magazine, April 2024