BLKDOG – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Choreographer: Botis Seva

Dark, mysterious and intense, Botis Seva’s BLKDOG returns to Sadler’s Wells in its entirety. It won an Olivier award in 2019, and its portrayal of depression, the black dog of the title, features some precise and energetic dancing from the seven performers, but overall is too one-dimensional for its 80-minute running time.

Seva has also shown excerpts of BLKDOG at highlight shows at Sadler’s Wells and these shorter versions were excitingly indecipherable with the dancers almost hidden in Tom Visser’s light design. Scuttling across the stage on their toes Seva’s dancers seemed like insects from an apocalypse, and the audience clamoured for more. But the full length version lacks variety and Visser’s lights and Torben Lars Sylvest’s sound design become oppressive.

At first the audience leans in towards the stage to try to see more of Seva’s exact, snappy hip-hop inspired moves but eventually people sit back in their seats knowing that the narrative puzzle will be too hard to unpick. Because so much happens in the gloom and because the dancers often have their backs to the audience, the energy on stage doesn’t extend any further.

BLKDOG centres on growing-up, and his dancers are thrown into a world of violence and distress. The calm voice of a therapist talks to his patient about a trauma that they have witnessed while the dancers huddle around a body on the floor. One dancer appears to give CPR while the others scuttle on their toes in panic or in indifference. Later they return to stage dressed in dinosaur outfits, trying to return to the safety and utopia of childhood. But even here, confusion breaks through the thin facade as one dancer enters wielding a baseball bat while others dash around on tiny bikes that are both comical and threatening at the same time. This conflicted image is the only chink of the light in the whole show.

The dancers, however, do not miss a beat, and all credit to them dancing in costumes that must make them incredibly hot and they look exhausted at curtain call. Towards the end one dancer reaches out to a hand for help. They can’t quite reach. The gulf between them is made wider by the lights mainly coming in from behind or from the side that illuminate only the dancers’ profiles, all looking alike in hoodies. That the hands can’t touch comes as no surprise. Brutal and frustrating in equal measures.

Runs until 20 November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Brutal and frustrating

The Reviews Hub - London

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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