Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
The idea of Dance: Sampled originated a decade ago at Sadler’s Wells. The idea to present a diverse programme of short, distinct works in different styles in order to diversify and broaden dance audience: now being rolled out nationally by The Movement – a new partnership between Sadler’s Wells, The Lowry and Birmingham Hippodrome. As six of the eight pieces feature work programmed into The Lowry for a full show later in the year, it also serves as a try-before-you-buy programming sampler for the coming year.
A series of activities, workshops and interactions in the building during the weekend and before the shows helps create a dance buzz designed to educate and seduce. So, eight companies offering ballet, contemporary dance, flamenco, Argentine Tango and hip hop…. Each performance is preceded by a short film explaining the work, which smooths the transitions between pieces and is genuinely illuminative, no matter your level of dance engagement.
First, I Come To My Body As A Question by British company dotdotdot, who perform stripped-down flamenco with a modern British perspective, in collaboration with more traditional artists. Choreographed by company member Yinka Esi Graves, this piece for three dancers with guitarist Liam Howarth, singer Javier Rivera and text from spoken-word artist Toni Stuart, explores a traditional flamenco style informed by a contemporary consideration of the female body from a female perspective. The staging draws from contemporary dance but the movement is clean, controlled flamenco; the distinctive flamenco guitar and voice coolly contrasted with Stuart’s rhythmic poetry. This is a stylish, considered flamenco, still authentic but noticeably emanating from a different place.
An excerpt from Northern Ballet’s much-anticipated Casanova follows: a duet of assignation and seduction by Guiliano Contadini and an icily beautiful Dreda Blow. Kenneth Tindall’s choreography is a measured explosion of elegant leg extensions and startlingly beautiful lifts. Contandini is very much in support here but Blow’s exquisite balance and control is ravishing in an intriguing and stylish glimpse of this major new work set in 18th Century Venice.
Connor Scott won the BBC Young Dancer of the Year competition in 2015 and has since been honing his skills at the Rambert School. White Water, which considers nostalgia and loneliness, is a very disciplined and confident work full of interesting details and distinctive moments. As a solo by an 18 year-old it is an impressive performance on that large stage and Scott looks to have a very exciting career ahead of him as a dancer and dance maker.
Another excerpt from a larger work: Shobana Jeyasingh’s Bayadère – The Ninth Life – reimagining of the 1877 Petipa ballet La Bayadère – weaves in different and newer ideas of India. This is a sensual, sinuous, perfume-drenched piece of dance that makes the prospect of the full work intriguing.
Act one ends with the first of two Argentine Tango pieces by former world champions Julia Hiriart Urruty and Claudio Gonzalez. The Other Side of the Coin is a vivid tango duet celebrating physical difference – both performers heavily made-up, bewigged and in fat suits, which adds a thick slice of slightly-inappropriate comedy to their whip-sharp Tango embrace, lifts and ganchos. Quirky and entertaining.
The second act opens with Carlos Pons Guerra’s Paradis, set on four Northern Ballet women, which draws from Genet’s The Maids for inspiration. Finely-crafted modern classical ballet is smartly made fresher still by a contrasting selection of jazzy 60s pop. Never have pointe shoes looked so threatening. Clean narrative and chillingly cool beauty makes this a standout.
Next is the second Tango duet – Buenos Aires Here and Now is a more conventionally-dressed dazzling display of fine Tango. The dancing is breathtaking but there is a touch too much showbizzy staging, which doesn’t quite sit right in the programme.
Faun, choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, reimagining the Ballet Russes’s iconic L’Apres-midi d’un Faune, is the first chance to see Carlos Acosta’s new Cuban company Acosta Danza. And it is extraordinary. Set to the Debussy score with additional music by Nitin Sawhney in Hussein Chalayan’s scant grey costumes and a forest backdrop, Faun is a gorgeous 15 minutes of dance. Innovative, fluid, animalistic choreography is delivered by two remarkable dancers – Yanelis Godoy and Julio Torres, who combine incredible strength and control with thrilling sensuality and the seeming-ability to bend even their bones. Completely “modern” modern ballet, Faun is outstanding on every level.
Closing the show is Adrenaline by Dutch b-boy crew The Ruggeds. The audience love this for its considerable energy, devastating technical skill and fearless hip-hop moves – the breakdancing is outstanding. The guys are likeable and the clever lighting design and bold staging give this part of the show some real weight. But after some of the work seen this evening, its good-natured posturing and bravado and naked demonstration of little more than skill – extreme skill – devoid of any real narrative and meaning – leaves a sense of emptiness.
The curation and execution of Dance: Sampled makes this a successful evening. There’s something for everybody, but the programming doesn’t play safe. Aimed at broadening the dance audience – which is an excellent thing to do – this is a show that works for people with little – or a lot of – dance knowledge and experience.
Runs until 25 February