Choreographers: Julie Cunningham, Botis Seva, and Alesandra Seutin
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
Sadler’s Wells is 20 years old this week. On 11 October 1998, Sadler’s Wells re-opened with its new foyers, and its deeper, wider stage, and became London’s premiere theatre devoted to dance. Many feet have touched upon its stage, but, as artistic director Alistair Spalding explained at the end of the night, now is not the right time to look back to past successes. To celebrate its 20th birthday, Sadler’s Wells has looked to its future, and it looks very bright.
Reckonings showcases work by three of the most exciting young choreographers around, and the result is electric. Julie Cunningham opens proceedings with her piece m/y, and it’s, fortunately, more subtle that the programme notes suggest. The six dancers, including Cunningham, are deceptively light-footed, hopping at the start of this 30-minute dance concerned with lesbian desire. Flashes of ballet punctuate the rhythms of the dancers, all women, as they struggle to find intimacy.
Dressed in yellow and blue costumes, each similar but each uniquely different, designed by Alexa Pollman, it sometimes seems as if the dancers are at the gym. Exercise balls appear out of nowhere as preparations begin. Standing on one leg they do quad stretches before they whip one arm over their shoulders to perform bicep stretches, and then they drop to the floor to momentarily hold planks. While the story may be opaque here, Neil Catchpole’s music carries the performance to a fitting final sequence where the six skip in unison, their eyes bright and their smiles cautious as if they can’t really believe they’ve made it this far.
It’s impossible to see the eyes of Botis Seva’s dancers in BLKDOGas Tom Visser’s lights are gloomy and dark. Seva’s piece begins with ranks of lights so low above the dancers it seems as if they are trapped under a ceiling pierced with bullet holes. Their faces obscured by hoodies, the six dancers hold still for what feels like minutes before they break out in the most dramatic dance Sadler’s Wells has ever seen. With bent knees, they scuttle around the stage on their toes, a seemingly impossible move which must make their muscles cry out. BLKDOGis about depression and survival in a world full of the sounds of guns – a thrilling music design by Torben Lars Sylvest. Influenced by hip-hop, they jerk and pulse their way around the stage, with timing that is robotically and breathtakingly precise. In a moment of stillness, five dancers gather around the body of the sixth, tending to him pietà-style. Dance does not get more exciting than this. Towards the end, we hear a voice chanting ‘Give the people what they want’. They certainly do.
BLKDOG may be a hard act to follow, but the next piece, Boy Breaking Glass, choreographed by Alesandra Seutin, is so different that it’s difficult to make comparisons. Seutin’s dancers sing as well as dance, all to live music led by composer Tunde Jegede, an expert in African music traditions. Based on Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem, Boy Breaking Glass is the story of how to survive in a racist world. Randolph Matthews is the main vocalist here, and he sometimes sings and dances alone while at others he dances with the rest of the company. While not quite as exact as Seva’s dancers, Seutin’s choreography settles on the individual, and often the dancers break away to start their own dances, which the others soon copy. The battle Matthews is having with the world- and with himself – resolves itself in a glorious finale when carnival beats bring joy to the stage.
These three choreographers (as the title of the show suggests) are definitely forces to be reckoned with, especially Botis Seva, whose idiosyncratic style seems revolutionary here. Artistic Director Spalding is right to be proud of these emerging artists, and as ticker tape swirled upon the audience to the sound of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance it seemed as if everyone wanted to put on their red shoes and dance the blues.
Runs until 13 October 2018 | Image: Manuel Vason