Young Associates: Mixed Bill – Sadler’s Wells, London

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

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Finding the next generation of creatives and performers is high on the current artistic agenda. Over at Wilton’s Music Hall, James Graham’s collaborative new show Sketching is providing a career development platform for eight new writers hoping for a foothold in the industry, meanwhile at Sadler’s Wells the Young Associate’s programme offers a similar opportunity to debut choreographers, four of whom feature in its inaugural public showcase.

Wilhelmina Ojanen, Ruby Portus, Christopher Thomas, Anthony Matsena were selected from the programme and each given a 20-minute slot, a chance to reveal their distinctive approach in a broad evening of dance and movement choreography. There is no obvious thematic link between the pieces or a tonal connection that draws them together as a unit, but Young Associates: Mixed Billis a chance to see the wide-ranging approaches that Sadler’s Wells supports.

First to present is Wilhelmina Ojanen with A Quiet Hope using four performers in series of movement sequences to examine interconnectedness and group dynamics. With only a slow piano accompaniment, initially this is almost a physics experiment as the performers demonstrate how a force applied at one end of the line can move through their ranks to the other, and soon different forms of harmony are found as individuals pull against one another in perfect balance. Ojanen’s work uses trust to establish connections and the overall effect is intriguing if perhaps unfinished.

Ruby Portus offers perhaps the most unexpected piece of the evening with her absurdist experience Shall We Just Retire to the Lake? This is not dance in any conventional sense, and instead uses the structure of Vaudeville and circus in a series of bizarre and seemingly disconnected scenes. The two female performers, dressed as glitzy ringmasters have a Laurel and Hardy quality, and there is some sense of rhythm to sections of manic laughter and repeated movements, but it’s not clear how Portus would develop this or make it her trademark, although having the courage to focus on the comic and unusual is to be applauded.

The two strongest showcases are reserved for after a superfluous interval, and The Three Visions by Christopher Thomas has the strongest storytelling of the night. Set in the atmospheric dressing room of a distressed woman visited by three beings, Thomas has created an emotional tale with plenty of classical ballet accents. There is a sense that the visions are earlier incarnations of the protagonist, versions of herself that fight each other as she struggles to determine the way ahead. There is huge potential in The Three Visions, particularly in the way Thomas manages variations in tone, but a tad more ambiguity in the conclusion would add depth.

The evening concludes with Anthony Matsena’s Tsutseka, musing on freedom and forgiveness in an energetic segment that mixes the slow elongated forms of ballet with speedier elements of break dance. There are hints of Boy Blue’s work recently seen at the Barbican, using a similar stomping rhythm and tribal influences to create unity among the dancers. Matsena is equally confident with tonal shifts and uses different types of music to vary the mood, considering how reactions create ripples of effect.

Sadler’s Wells Young Associates Programme is designed to identify the choreographers of the future and while this evening of shorts is a little variable, it is a valuable first showcase for four very different artists who will have plenty more to say.

Runs Until: 10 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

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