ContemporaryDanceNorth East & YorkshireReview

VERVE – Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Choreographers: Caroline Finn, Botis Seva, Barnaby Booth, Matthew Robinson

Now in its 15th year, VERVE offers dancers on the MA in Contemporary Dance Performance at NSCD (Northern School for Contemporary Dance) to create new work with both established and emerging guest choreographers. Under the guidance of Artistic Director Matthew Robinson they explore their identities as performers over the course of one intensive year and culminate with VERVE.

The Quiet Ones opens the show and is choreographed by Caroline Finn, Artistic Director of National Dance Company Wales from 2015 to 2018, and currently the company’s Resident Choreographer. The soundtrack starts off with Mark Bernes’ swan song Cranes, which imagines dying soldiers flying into the air like cranes. The dancers actually seem to be soaking up the melancholy but mindful music as they stretch into different postures, even standing on one leg or lying on the stage floor. The music changes but continues the thoughtful and reflective mode with I vechji amanti (La chanson des vieux amants) a Jacques Brel song covered here by Barbara Furtuna. A larger group now form, reaching up and shaking violently. Then there is another musical change with the sad and sombre anthem Souliko by the Red Army Choir. The dancers, in Emma James’ hospital gowns costumes, huddle into a formation. Before running and, again, reaching upwards, twitching as if they had St Vitus’ dance. The movements are made in formation and after a final frenetic burst the dancers lie, some with one leg in the air. Quite a disturbing (deliberately) but also cathartic piece, if rather ambivalent in meaning.

White Lies is devised by Botis Seva, a London based artist who, amongst other genres, draws on hip hop dance and music. The dancers move in a robotic and synchronised way, sometimes marching, at others crab-like. Torben Lars Sylvest’s soundtrack has a powerful rumbling bass and is extremely noisy. The performers make fast gestures to the martial rhythms which perfectly fit Seva’s intention for this to be a release of pent-up tension after the COVID lockdown’s rules relaxing. The extremity of the music is matched by powerful vigorous motions of the performers. Andi Walker’s militaristic costumes add to the martial theme and mood. While the movement is eclectic throughout, it has great rapidity and speed and Seva takes more than a sideways nod to his hip hop influences.

Choreographer of Private Little Films, Barnaby Booth is an award winning choreographer and lighting designer and a graduate of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance and the Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance (SEAD). The ambient noise consists of heavy rainfall, the rumble of traffic and dogs barking. Coupled with this is Animal Collective’s Baby Day, almost a Beach Boys spoof,  that creates an immersive rhythmic backdrop to the slowly paced movement. One dancer seems to be hyperventilating but then our attention switches immediately to a set piece of dancers flailing and staggering in synch. The mood is simply electric and absorbing in this daring and energetic piece.

The final piece, Love to Destroy, is choreographed by VERVE Artistic Director Matthew Robinson. It demands much of the dancers who have to bend, stretch, crawl, kneel and crouch to Torben Lars Sylvest’s dynamic score. The movements Robinson is asking for is part martial, part robotic and he certainly gets this and more. We see some dancers flailing on the floor, others making karate style high kicks.

Robinson really deserves ecstatic praise for the work he has done with VERVE. But most of all his collaborators, both choreographers and dancers, are deserving of platitudes for the excellence of this exacting and inventive programme.

Reviewed on 18th June 2021 at Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds

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