Now one of the highlights of each new year, Sampled at Sadler’s Wells showcases its brightest talents. Some of the performers reprise parts of their shows from last year, while others provide tasters of their forthcoming shows at London’s principal dance venue. Even the odd appearance of a circus act doesn’t spoil the excitement of the diverse programming. With an emphasis on more contemporary genres of dancing, the energy on stage is palpable and contagious.
The first act is, perhaps, the most interesting, featuring self-taught dancers rather than performers who attended dance schools. (LA)HORDE from France dance hard jumpstyle (or hardstyle jump) a repetitive urban genre where the legs kick behind as the body rotates to music with 140-150 bpm. However, in their piece TO DA BONE there is no music, and instead the rhythm comes from the eleven dancers’ perfectly synchronised feet. Shell-suited and tight, they resemble a close shoal of fish, although occasionally one dancer will break away to do a solo, and echoes of Northern Soul sometimes appear. Towards the end of the piece, music does appear, and (LA)HORDE finish with an audacious cheek, not seen since Hofesh Schechter’s Exit of 2018. This is dance at its most theatrical.
It may be hard to outdo this opening act, but some performers come very close. Company Wayne McGregor present an extract from Living Archive, where a computer programme selects at random any dance move contained in Wayne McGregor’s back catalogue. Despite the collaboration with Google Arts and Culture Lab, the choreography isn’t as strange as it could be. The dancers swoop and they stretch, and the result is often mesmeric, helped by the computerised graphics that fill that back wall.
One of the most important dances of recent years must be Botis Seva’s BLKDOG, a searing hip hop representation of vanishing youth, and an excerpt of it appeared in Reckonings, the 20-year celebration of Sadler’s Well’s refit in 2018. Part of that excerpt appears again tonight; hooded dancers in twilight scuttle across the stage on their toes, before jolting to the sounds of guns being loaded. Some fall to the floor while the others tend to their wounds. With music by Torben Lars Sylvest and with a light design by Tom Visser, this is exciting and trippy stuff. Fortunately BLKDOG will be shown in its entirety in October of this year.
Bringing more traditional dance to the evening are Ezequiel Lopez and Camila Alegre who present a selection of short tangos. Sexy and fast, the two cover most of the stage, and Alegre’s leaps delight the audience, and the way that she is able to reach the back of her head with a backwards kick seems in hindsight impossible. Also bringing a traditional flavour is Shree Savani, and her bharatanatyam dance based on moves that are over 3,000 years old. Shree won the South Asian Category of the BBC Young Dancer of the Year 2019, and it’s not hard to see why.
Winning the BBC competition overall was Max Revell, and in his short piece Unstrung, straps link his feet to his hands, an idea inspired by one of his heroes Boogaloo Sam. Revell is caught like a puppet, and also perhaps caught between genres, but unfortunately his performance is over too quickly. Revell enjoys how genres are being increasingly blurred in the present day, but surely he’s not referring to Machine de Cirque, who have two slots over the evening. Their juggling, the dropped skittles notwithstanding, and their tumbles on the sea-saw are incredible, full of drama and humour, but their act seems at odds with the rest of the evening. Of course, they are tightly choreographed and gifted, but it’s difficult to classify them as dancers.
Finishing the evening are Géométrie Variable, who, as their names suggest, make geometric shapes with their arms. More vogue than hip hop, the precision of the four dancers is outstanding and hypnotic. Occasionally, the details are lost on the deep stage at Sadler’s Well, but with the (uncredited) music, and their repetitions, their moves seem to be overcome with grief. It’s a fine, but bittersweet ending to another great Sampled at Sadler’s Wells, still full of talent and full of dance.
Runs until 1 February 2020