ContemporaryDanceLondonReview

Young Associates Mixed Bill – Sadler’s Wells, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Choreographers: Magnus Westwell, Vidya Patel, Olive Hardy and  John-William Watson

First established in 2018, Sadler’s Wells’ Young Associates programme supports young choreographers for two years, providing them with development, support and mentorship. The current quartet of Young Associates are now presenting work in a mixed bill, showcasing some of the future stars of the choreographic world.

Magnus Westwell’s Landscape with Flying Man lives up to its title with its first, striking image: a trio of male dancers, the central figure’s arms entwined with those of the dancers standing beside him, giving the impression of elongated wings beating in flight.

Westwell’s trio of dancers occasionally split off into a pair and a single, but such separation never really feels as if the performers are anything but a third of a whole. Even when pulling apart completely, and Westwell (who also composed the piece’s score) introduces some hard drumbeats as the dancers writhe in nightclub ecstasy, the atmospherics remain.

Vidya Patel’s When Live Gives You Melons focuses on the patriarchal view of the differing worth of children of different sexes, with the desire for sons over daughters leading to female infanticide and sex-selective abortion in cultures around the world. Sarathy Korwar’s score melds Western jazz with Indian rhythms, with Patel’s choreography similarly mixing literal expression with the fluidity of Kathak dance.

As her four dancers progress through various stages of life with mimes from face washing, playing school ground games and preparing a bride for marriage, it is in the more abstract moments that Patel’s work is strongest. From a brief, shining moment, Patel’s lead dancer beats out a rhythm on the floor with her bare feet while those around her dance noiselessly. But in the piece’s conclusion, as the four dancers process off the stage across an unfurled white cloth, the music cuts out at an awkward point. The impact is further lessened by the reveal of the dancers’ bloodied footprints only being noticeable when the house lights come up for the performers to take their bows. With a stronger ending, this piece’s stronger moments would continue to resonate.

I wonder if you know what I’m talking about is a direct challenge from choreographer Olive Hardy to her audience. Dancers Annie Edwards and James Olivo jerk and contort themselves as if fighting off invisible demons. Each has a small cloth parcel which sometimes they protect from onslaught, sometimes they kick across the floor.

The biggest drawback is that the entire piece occurs at a uniform, relentless pace. The more it goes on, the less revealing it becomes, although it does enable one to observe the differences between the two dancers’ styles.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is John-William Watson’s This is Not a Penguin. Two women dressed in 1950s clothing are trapped together in a small Antarctic research outpost. Their pacing around the small space, which they share with just a chair and a desk, starts out as the boredom of caged animals; but variations in their route, occasional pauses to sit on the chair or lean on the desk, combine to build a hypnotically rhythmic pattern.

As the soundscape bounces from Werner Herzog documentaries on penguins with depression to classic Louis Prima songs, the sense of existential loneliness and frustration of the pair dissolves into companionship.

The inspiration of silent film in Watson’s work is evident here. There are elements of how Chaplin, and especially Buster Keaton, would ensure that every movement was an extension of character. It is perhaps the most straightforward and accessible piece of the four on display here – due in no small part to the humour evident throughout – but it is also the most consistently coherent and enjoyable.

It is certainly the right piece with which to conclude the evening. As one leaves the Lilian Baylis Studio, one can appreciate the diversity of styles that our up and coming choreographers are revelling in. While the four pieces show a variable quality of work, it’s clear that the future of dance is in safe hands.

Continues until 24 November

The Reviews Hub Score

A variable mixed bill

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