Choreographer: Alesandra Seutin
Speak Volumes, a new work devised for the National Youth Dance Company by guest artistic director Alesandra Seutin, is a remarkable piece of dance, not least because this year’s NYDC students had to attend most of their rehearsals on zoom. From the vibrancy and fluency of the performance, you would never guess that the ensemble of 29 dancers with an average age of 17 had such limited time to rehearse together, such is their precision and energy.
The show itself is preceded by a short film directed by Ben Williams in which some of the dancers introduce themselves and talk movingly about what their time with the NYDC has meant to them. What emerges is the tension between difficulties in giving voice to their feelings and the freedom allowed them by dance. Particularly moving is the witness of Maya Donne, whose words ‘Enter our private sphere/ Dive into our ocean’ are part of the powerful text created by cast and director.
Seutin’s stated vision is to create a show ‘rooted in overcoming stereotypes and being freed from judgement’. The costumes and choreography deliberately obscure differences of gender and race. The dancers emerge into semi-darkness, moving with menacing gestures, seemingly a pack of feral creatures in a post-apocalyptic landscape. There is no show-boating of individuals, no focus on the beauty of the body or of physical movement.
Seutin’s focus is the relationship between movement, voice and music and it is in its vocal landscape that Speak Volumes is particularly striking, with repeated words and a rich range of strange sounds. This works most effectively in a later section of the piece where movement, sound and lighting evoke a mythical underwater world of sea creatures. Less effective was the section ‘Simon says’ which although funny, was perhaps too obvious in its satirical intent.
Adam Carrée’s imaginative lighting design maintains this evocative atmosphere throughout, creating a series of geometrical spaces for the different pieces of the show. The powerful music, written for the work, is by composer Randolph Matthews.
Seutin’s determination to avoid stereotyping is to be commended. The dancers, as they are presented, have no personal identity, always alone, unable to interact fully with one another. But this is perhaps the show’s one limitation: it does not allow for an exploration of relationships which are such a critical part of teenage experience.
Reviewed on 24 July 2021