Danse Élargie: Dance Expanded – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Miriam Sallon

Dance Expanded brings us a selection of finalist performances from its 2016 and 2018 competitions. Anyone can apply to the competition, and there are no limitations on content. The only stipulation is, “You have to have something to champion, something to defend.” It’s no wonder, then, that the performances are varied in the extreme, from slow-motion seaside vignettes to militant jumpstyle. But the overarching commonalities are excesses of imagination and painstaking exactitude.

It’s difficult to summarise an evening made up of such assorted performances. Some are easier for a novice audience to appreciate where others are less afraid of abstraction. But the productions of each are so carefully considered that regardless of whether the concept is a little opaque, the aesthetic is stunning. WRECK- List of Extinct Species, choreographed by Pietro Marullo, is one such performance: A giant foil inflatable moves ominously around the stage, appearing to eject its naked performers only to swallow them up again. As with most of the performances, there’s almost no light on stage for the most part, leaving us to try and make out the ephemeral shapes before they vanish again. Presumably, the inflatable is a kind of predator, and the metaphor lays somewhere along the lines of mankind’s fragility. It doesn’t really matter though; the radical and enigmatic visual effects are enough to capture its audience.

Queen Blood, choreographed by Ousmane Sy, is, on the other hand, a far more accessible performance. Though its concept is plenty lofty, the dance is more conventional, using hip-hop and popular dance to make its case. That being said, the aesthetic is no less pleasing. The group moves as one, and the precision is quite breath-taking. It’s also the only dance that induced whooping from the audience throughout.

It’s hardly right to bill this as purely dance when there is so much artistic consideration in every aspect of the production. Each performance appears to consider its lighting (Richard Williamson) and music as equal to the dances themselves.  As touched on before, there are a few production trends running through much of the performances: low rumblings serving as soundtrack, and artfully employed low lighting. The concepts are so vastly different though that these similarities only serve to create a kind of consistency.

Though some performances aren’t quite as strong as others in their ability to grip the audience, quality of production is unswervingly high throughout. The evening as a whole is visually and conceptually brilliant with an impossibly high calibre, giving us a careful combination of incisively affecting and exceptionally entertaining.

Runs until 12 October 2019 | Image: Contributed

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