Choreographic Collaboration: Damion BG Dancerz & Joan Mendy
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
If you’ve ever dreamed of dancing on the stage at Sadler’s Wells, then your day has come. Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chignauld’s new show DFS, inspired by Jamaican dancehalls, welcomes the audience onstage for a few minutes to learn a quick routine from the dancers. As half the stalls enthusiastically decamp to learn the moves, this unexpected piece of audience interaction becomes the energetic high point of an interesting but uneven new dance show.
Based around a series of choreographed performances at the unusual conjunction of movement and music, DFS is a showcase for the dancers. Without a clear overarching structure, it sits at the intersections of Jamaican street dance and choreography drawn from rap music, but with an added ballet spin to create a tough and intriguing style,
It opens quietly in semi-darkness, with two of the performers providing the beat with a low sung section which is difficult to hear in the large Sadler’s Wells auditorium as audience shuffling drowns out some of the music. Although it takes a little too long for the stage lights to fully come up, the slow flowing movements in the half-light begin to draw you in, but it’s not until the more explosive numbers where the potential power of DFS is revealed.
The fast pace of Damion BG Dancerz and Craig Black Eagle’s performances are exciting and entertaining as the speed and intricacy of their movements increases. Their syncopation sets their dances apart and starts to feel like a conversation in which they respond to each other’s movements, These well-choreographed sections – also the basis for the audience dance lesson – are full of personality and represent the merging of styles that creators Cecilia Bengolea & Francois Chaignaud are aiming for.
There is a feeling of strength and an attitude throughout the piece which reflects the harsh thud of the music, with dancers creating pointed shapes as well as gun signals with their hands in several of the pieces. Shihya Peng’s ballet-influenced performance is particularly impressive, capturing the distinctive beat and style of the music but with the precision and control of ballet.
There are scrappy moments among the rest of the production, particularly in the full company pieces which are danced with individual skill but don’t often feel coordinated, and while that reflects the looser street style of this type of dancing it’s not a performance aimed directly at the audience. At times it struggles to fill the enormous stage and without a story to follow, it becomes a showcase for the individual rather than a dance troupe.
DFS suffers in the quieter moments, and while there is an interesting contrast between the vigour of the more exuberant numbers and the choral-like vocal that accompanies the slower dances, the company haven’t quite found the right balance between the two. It feels like a show that should take place in a more intimate venue, where the detail and emotion of the performance could be more easily felt. Having an audience lesson mid-show finally warms-up the room because this seems like a show that you can’t just watch, to properly appreciate the intriguing style you need to dance it.
Runs until 24 April 2018 | Image: Contributed