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TV Preview: PBS special shows veteran dancers staying in step

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

By Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance Critic

You're a principal dancer with an internationally known ballet company. The top of the crop. A star in your field.

"Can't Stop Now"

When: 8:30 tonight on WQED/WQEX.

Featuring: NDT 3.


So maybe you've slowed a step or two. That arabesque doesn't quite arch the way it used to do. "Don Quixote," with its whiplash fouettes, myriad jumps and fiery footwork, just isn't in the cards anymore.

It's that time.

You're 40 years old, and the young, lithe dancers keep on coming. You could be gently pushed aside to character roles or given a gala retirement bash of a performance.

But the feet aren't quite ready to stand still. Your heart is still in it. Isn't there another path to take, one with dignity and artistic fulfillment?

The answer is here, and it's called NDT 3, the subject of tonight's "Great Performances" presentation, "Can't Stop Now," airing at 8:30 on WQED/WQEX. The letters stand for Netherlands Dance Theater, under the artistic direction of famed choreographer Jiri Kylian. NDT 1 is the main company. Then followed NDT 2, an experimental outlet for the young jet set.

NDT 3 was suggested to Kylian by Gerard Lemaitre, a long-time star presence with Netherlands Dance Theater dating to 1960. He's still dancing in this program at age 63 and shows no signs of stopping, a man whose comical asides are as quick as his feet.

The other players in this dance/drama are Sabine Kupferberg, a pixie-haired dancer with Stuttgart Ballet, who joined NDT 1 in 1975. American dance fans will be more familiar with Gary Chryst, former principal dancer with The Joffrey Ballet, and Jeanne Solan, once with Harkness Ballet and the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.

But the core of the story centers on transition. Karen Kain, former star of the National Ballet of Canada, is followed by a Canadian film crew as she prepares to join NDT 3, replacing another Canadian legend, Martine van Hamel, once a ballerina with American Ballet Theatre.

This is the passing of the baton. Van Hamel has wistfully come to the conclusion that, at age 50-plus, the aches and pains have become too much. Kain is the novice, age 40-plus.

She is still in great shape, a blazing nova among these stars. Van Hamel teaches Kain her roles.

So maybe it isn't "Romeo and Juliet," in which Dame Margot Fonteyn toured well into her 60s and in which partner Ivan Nagy lovingly held up her leg. And it isn't the aforementioned "Don Quixote" or "Swan Lake," where both Kain and van Hamel made their mark. But this company doesn't play down to these artists. It is choreography geared to the mature dancer, more in a contemporary vein and playing upon their expertise in the intelligence of shape, rhythm and phrasing.

The viewer gets large chunks of three Kylian works, along with two by Patrick Delcroix. There is also a sampling of a celebratory performance in which all three NDT groups perform.

But the most important thing about the program is the passion the NDT 3 artists still bring to the dance. It is something that has never been extinguished; it is the thing that drives them still.

It is the reason they can't stop now.

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