National Youth Dance Company: Used to be Blonde – Sadler’s Wells, London

Artistic Director and Choreographer: Sharon Eyal

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

NYDC’s remit is to create innovative and influential dance, bringing together young dance talent from across England. Under the direction of their 2017-18guest artistic director, Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal, Used to be Blondebrings together 41 dancers, most aged from 16 to 18, to form an hour-long piece of pulsing dance.

Driven by a relentless EDM score by Eyal’s longtime musical collaborator Ori Lichtik, the ensemble – all dressed in figure-hugging, androgynous body suits – flex and pulsate in unison. In the show’s initial low light levels, the bodysuits merge into the blackness of the set, leaving just hands and faces visible. Eyal’s choreography places a great deal of emphasis on small, repetitive moment among the ensemble. Within these early, dimly lit moments it can feel as if we are witnessing the breathing of some stage-sized sea creature with human heads for scales.

Gradually, emerging from the sea of uniformity we catch a flicker of other movement. A head shaking from side to side amongst others which are still, an upright stance amongst crouched figures, hands held aloft when others are on hips. It’s an intriguing and effective approach to highlighting individual dancers, and only possible due to the company’s masterclass in precision.

Eyal also utilises the tried and tested technique of allowing other soloists to move downstage of the ensemble, of course – but by giving a selection of dancers the opportunity to stand out without breaking formation, she finds an unusual and aesthetically curious way of allowing multiple members of the troupe to have their moment to shine.

Within the hour of meticulous dance, one of the most intriguing aspects is how the almost mechanical repetition of some movements changes their character. Many of the individual movements used can be seen as the same used by Bob Fosse in his signature choreographically style, and reused by his imitators, most notably Ann Reinking in her Fosse-inspired work on Chicago. But where Fosse would string them together in interesting sequences to accompany the musical’s narrative, here Eyal’s pulsating, rhythmic, repeating use provides a very different, but no less effective, method of storytelling.

The overall effect is of an original work, delivered with distinction by an ensemble of some of the country’s best young dancers. And as NYDC prepares to take this work out on tour, it is reassuring to know that the future of contemporary dance has such talent upon which to draw.

Reviewed on April 7. Tours until July 2018 | Image: Contributed

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A masterclass in precision

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