Choreographers: Matthew Bourne, Yasmeen Godder, Jonzi D, Julia Robert, Rudi Cole and Stina Quagebeur
Due to touring schedules and commitments, a programme like Dancing Nation would not be possible in ordinary times Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells Alistair Spalding explains to presenter Brenda Emmanus, so one of the rare benefits of lockdown has been in bringing companies to Sadler’s Wells from around the UK to presents five contrasting pieces in the first episode now available on BBC iPlayer and the Sadler’s Wells Facebook page.
Designed to showcase the broad range of dance styles and influences usually seen at the Central London venue, this first episode has no direct thematic link but showcases the expansive approach to programming as well as taking the chance to utilise new spaces in the public areas of the building. All dances in this first edition were filmed on location within the last few weeks and in compliance with government guidelines using bubbles and social distancing.
The very best segments in Part 1 bookend the episode with superstar choreographer and creator Matthew Bourne who offers up his joyous 1988 piece Spitfire that riffs on male vanity as six dancers in white underwear and Brill-creamed hair showcase their muscular physiques. There is something of the 1950s ‘beefcake’ about the shapes Bourne employs, utilising the bicep flex in particular as his performers strut and pose while nodding to synchronised swimming and even dressage in this cheeky yet athletic and beautiful composition.
Concluding this 70-minute episode is a stunning English National Ballet duet entitled And Hollow performed with incredible feeling by Emily Suzuki and Victor Prigent. This melancholy story explores depression as a couple styled in grey and black explore emotional pressures, support and distraction. Suzuki’s ghostly presence is impressive and her performance full of absence as her character’s mind slips away while the more supportive and occasionally frustrated Prigent seeks to ground her, particularly with incredible movements including a low knee hold that allows Suzuki to slowly move into a deep lean towards the ground. The pace and pressure of this dance builds to a poignant breaking point for them both.
Jonzi D’s company Breakin’ Convention best represents the Sadler’s Wells package with a story that develops the choreography from street dance through flamenco to classical ballet using the architecture of the building to stage his four-dance collective entitled Window Shopping. Much to the amazement of passers-by, this begins in the front window with a ‘welcome’ of mime, popping and robotic shaping before moving to the foyer where a voguing trio in Avant Garde outfits perform a catwalk style sequence filled with elaborate arm-shaping. This clever piece builds from the stiffness of the first pairing to the lyrical fluidity of classical ballet and concludes with flamenco dancers on the stairs who discover a boxed dancer in the upstairs bar.
Episode 1 has two further sections; Yasmeen Godder’s choreography for Candoco Dance Company that has a much freer style allowing the dancers to play with styles, shapes and pace in colour-pop costumes. The rave-meets-cult worshippers feel links to HUMANHOOD’s earthy piece Orbis that celebrates the moon as two dancers perform a long tribal ritual. Throughout Emmanus interviews choreographers, directors and performs to give greater context to the selections while using the series to celebrate the importance of dance and its eventual return to live performance.
Runs here until 26 February 2021