Subject to Change

by Paul Lightfoot, former dancer, house choreographer & artistic director

choreography: subject to change by sol león & paul lightfoot
photo: joris-jan bos

“The moment I crossed the threshold of NDT through the bulky wooden door of Koningstraat 118 on January 7th 1985, I knew that I had found my place.

These past 35 years spanning my entire professional career so far with NDT is a personal encyclopedia of immeasurable stories and inspirational colleagues. Deciding on a single ballet in an attempt to encapsulate the precious beauty of NDT isn’t easy though I have settled on a work of Sol and myself whose circumstance process and creative result both emotionally and factually exemplify in my opinion why NDT is like no other dance company in the world.

Subject to Change was a world premiere in March 2003 for NDT 2, the company where so many dear colleagues and friends also began. The ballets title was aptly nabbed from the corner of the page of every schedule, cast sheet, and planning document we print at NDT. Three little words to remind us that this artistic house rarely does anything as expected, so be prepared…

When Sol and I started the work all we knew was  that we wanted a pas de deux and a large red carpet to dance it upon. The music originally chosen was Allegri’s ‘Miserere Mei’, which got overruled when one day I returned to the studio from the music library with a CD of Mahler’s transcription of Schubert’s ‘Der Tod und Das Madchen’. Hedda Twiehaus, our wonderful assistant declared her love for the music and everyone in the room agreed that it was such a powerful poetic piece that we should use it. Little did we know that it was a precursor for events which were to follow.

Saura our daughter, who was five then, spent much of her time in studio 2 around us during the creative process. A dear friend called Ruth from Chile was helping to look after Saura. During an evening rehearsal Saura literally rang us up in the studio. To this day I still don’t know how she managed to do that as a five year old. She said quite calmly that Ruth was on the floor and that she couldn’t “wake her up”.

What transcended was a harrowing time as Ruth fought for her life against a severe brain haemorrhage. Sol and I had never been so close to death. The reality of the world had suddenly punctured a hole into our creativity and we could not ignore this reality so we kept choreographing whilst watching Ruth’s faculties as a human being brutally taken away from her. As Ruth’s sole carers we spent every moment we could with her in hospital whilst back at NDT we worked all kinds of irregular hours creating the piece. No one questioned it. We all simply faced this storm together. Gerald Tibbs, artistic leader of NDT 2 always knew how to help creators in whichever way he could.”

Three little words to remind us that this artistic house rarely does anything as expected.

“Admittedly, Sol and I took shelter inside the ballet, almost abusing it as a therapeutic divining stick trying to cure our Ruth through the work. Schubert’s music suddenly revealed its inner message and when after two operations the doctors asked us if we would sign a form not to help Ruth be resuscitated were she to fall again we feared that all was lost. The blood red carpet and the four dark angels who turned and manipulated it all suddenly seemed so relevant to Ruth’s plight.

The couple Marthe Krummenacher and Medhi Walerski were now our angel of death and the purest feminine spirit of innocence and hope. Despite the expected demise of our dear friend, Sol and I refused to make a final end to Subject to Change as if we could somehow save her through the ballet… as Marthe finally stepped off the carpet with the last notes of the strings, Sol asked Medhi to whisper something in her ear which none of us should ever know. As the entire cast of six watched the final curtain fall and then magically disappear at the premiere I knew that this was more than a ballet. This was a part of our lives and all of NDT had come together to our aid so this piece could exist. No one in the audience consciously knew what was happening to Ruth, but everyone comprehended somehow through the power of dance. That is what NDT has always done. Helped people to see life through art. My heart still breaks a little when I recall how the entire room wept quietly somewhere not only for Ruth but for all our own mortality too.

No other company I know would have been able to stand by such a process as our colleagues did then. Sol was a mother to us all and my cup runneth over for the gifts she possesses. The NDT integrity, ethics and unrivaled quality full of passion are the reasons why I truly believe in this house. So despite all the trials and tribulations of NDT we continue to travel the world presenting our art and within that we share ourselves through this noble art of dance.”

From: Nederlands Dans Theater | 60 – EAN 9789462622425