Dancing Nation: Part Two: Akram Khan and Natalia Osipova, Far From The Norm and Boy Blue – BBC iPlayer/Sadler’s Wells

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Choreographers: Akram Khan, Oona Doherty, Will Tuckett, Botis Seva, Júlia Robert and Rudi Cole,

This collaboration between BBC Arts and Sadler’s Wells features some of today’s greatest dancers and choreographers. Matthew Bourne and Breakin’ Convention each have their own slots in Episode One, but we are spoilt for choice in Episode Two with two of the most elegant dancers of our time – Akram Khan and Natalia Osipova – and one of the most thrilling choreographers – Botis Seva – appearing in the 80 minute programme designed especially for the pandemic.

It begins, however, with HUMANHOOD, one of the most exciting companies in Britain today. HUMANHOOD are Júlia Robert and Rudi Cole, partners in both senses of the word. Dancing on a circular carpet in the foyer of Sadler’s Wells with buses trundling past in the rain outside, Robert and Cole perform Sphera. Neither of them is still; Robert turns constantly, all sharp elbows, while Cole, to a different beat, curls down and then straightens out. Slowly they adjust speeds to come together, mirroring each other or engaging in some graceful lifts. The end, as the music written with Iain Armstrong moves up a tempo, is unmissable and they jump as if they are in a rave. It’s hopeful stuff.

Much darker is the extract of Botis Seva’s BLCKDG performed by Far From The Norm especially for Dancing Nation. This section of his piece about a man struggling with his art has been seen on the Sadler’s Wells stage before, but never have we been so close to the dancers as the cameras manage to peer through the shadows which usually hide the faces of these hoodied bodies. As the dancers repeatedly drop into the foetal position or scamper impossibly on their toes it seems as we have been flown into a future which is violent and compelling. Let’s hope that Seva still plans to bring the entirety of BLCKDG to Sadler’s Wells as soon as he can.

Also future-driven is the clip of Boy Blue dancing part of their Blak Whyte Gray from 2017, the only section of the programme that was not created specifically for Dancing Nation’s three episodes. Three dancers jerk and pulse, robots with loose knees, as if they are caught forever in a routine they can’t escape. The camera gets closer to the dancers’ faces than we could achieve by sitting in the front stalls and its intimacy reveals silent screams and terrified eyes.

In a lighter transition, Will Tuckett’s Lazuli Sky performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet mixes the old and the new, all to live music composed by John Adams and played by Members of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Graceful and evocative as Tuckett promises it certainly whets the appetite for more.

Hopefully back for more one day will be Oona Doherty, who investigates ideas of masculinity in her extract danced by Sati Veyrunes, full of drunken swagger and unapologetic machismo. Danced in a city square in Belfast, the piece is about joyriding and a man stands face-masked by a car, only joining in the dance when the lyrics of the song by Strength NIA proclaim that ‘God is a Catholic man’. However, the extract is so short that it doesn’t quite deify the working-class man as Doherty had intimated, but this is another reason to look forward to seeing the whole work.

Concluding Dancing Nation is Akram Khan and Natalia Osipova in Khan’s Mud of Sorrow: Touch, a short delicate dance, mixing kathak and ballet, about presence and absence. Both dancers demonstrate incredible strength here, especially Osipova who drapes her feet around Khan’s waist to then dance horizontally from his body. In these days touch is a luxury that we can we can only dream of, and Khan’s dance makes for a poignant end to Episode Two.

Runs here until 26 February 2021


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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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