Together Not the Same: Young Associates – Sadler’s Wells, London

Choreographers: Wilhelmina Ojanen, Ruby Portus, Christopher Thomas, Anthony Matsena

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Last October, Sadler’s Wells showcased the first collective works from its Young Associates programme which offers four choreographers in the making training, development and support from within the illustrious dance studio. For their second show, which moves to the main auditorium, the stakes have been raised so Wilhelmina Ojanen, Ruby Portus, Christopher Thomas and Anthony Matsena have been tasked with creating a two-part dance piece to be shown either side of their interval in their new show Together Not the Same: Young Associates.

Building on his atmospheric The Three Visionsfrom last year, Christopher Thomas continues his interest in female psychology and expressions of distress with the intriguing To the Ocean Floor. In Part One a young woman and her friend find themselves in a semi-real dreamscape surrounded by dances creating wave-like shapes and patterns in lots of fast flowing movements around them. But there is an undertone of melancholy and worry which haunts their faces, with a dramatic cliffhanger that leads into a much darker Part Two.

Thomas’ work is very expressive supported by Jordan Hunt’s intense piano score and performed with feeling by the dancers. There is far less clarity to the events in Part Two which take on a spiritual tone, but the two central couples are given far less to do overall making the narrative rather static.

Ruby Portus has developed her absurdist ideas more fully since presenting Shall We Just Retire to the Lake? making her latest offering far more coherent as a concept and performance. Portus embraces the comic – a rare thing in dance – and here creates the false world of Port Manteauin which a tour guide/advertising pitch is delivered to the audience, showcasing the “smooshing” concept that Portus has built an entire planet around (e.g. guestimate and Brangelina feature repeatedly).

Part One is full of energy as dancers dressed like superheroes on a stage popping with 50s colour saturation is full of powerful shapes and determination as they perform to ‘We Built this City’ by Starship. The slow decline of that world is the focus of Part Two as the shiny advertising narrative becomes of loop of interference and repetition. It last just that bit too long but Portus has things to say about the triviality distracting us from major social issues.

Anthony Matsena also has much to contribute with his pieces looking at group dynamics and the unwieldy power of communities. The energy and experimentation he brought to Tsutsekais clear in this new work, and Vessels of Afflictionis easily the evenings most successful duo. The first dance is tribal with rhythm initially contributed by the dancers as a series of clicks, claps and stomps that become a vibrant story full of flowing, rolling movements about the eagerness to join established groups and the joy of being part of a colourful happy crowd.

Part Two is a complete and pleasant contrast in which Matsena’s masked dances stand in threatening pose as the curtain rises. The performance here stresses danger, intimidation and even violence as the dancers stalk the stage choreographed to show the sharp edges of their shoulders and elbows in shadow. This time someone is trying to escape the group, and Matsena presents these contrasting experiences with skill.

Finally, Wilhelmina Ojanen delivers the most overtly and somewhat heavy-handed political creation about the effects of climate change in her new piece Land. In the beginning, a group of dancers are grown from the soil and start to move, exploring their new life while spraying, sweeping and crumbling their life-giving soil around the stage. Later, a long time is spent moving pot plants around and lighting candles which makes relatively little sense.

Part Two is clearer as the now exhausted and floppy people walk slowly onto the stage, constantly fainting and having to drag themselves up. Everyone is in rags and the movements are wispy as an earthquake threatens to destroy the planet. It’s quite a blunt message from Ojanen but not one that fills the time and both sections have too little content to sustain their concepts.

Advertised as two hours but running closer to three, there are only about 90-minutes of dance content in the show with each piece lasting around 10-15 minutes, so a lot of time is lost to stage resets and a long interval that draws-out the evening for the audience. Sadler’s Wells set its Young Associates a challenging task and their very different styles has mixed but thoughtful results. It will be interesting to see what their year three show will offer.

Reviewed on 17 July 2019 | Image: Contributed

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