Sadler’s Wells Sampled – companies from Hip hop to Ballet – London

Publicity image for James Cousins, winner of the New Adventures Choreographer Award.<br />© James Cousins. (Click image for larger version)
Publicity image for James Cousins, winner of the New Adventures Choreographer Award.
© James Cousins. (Click image for larger version)

Sadler’s Wells – Sampled

Paco Peña Flamenco Dance Company: Quimeras
English National Ballet: Swan Lake pdd
Jonzi D: Aeroplane Man
Da Bratz: Generation: Next 2012
Cathy Waller: Tempo
James Cousins: There we have been
Ihsan Rustem: State of Matter

London, Peacock Theatre
29 June 2012

With tickets costing just £12, this ‘two nights only’ event at the Peacock Theatre was filled to overflowing with vocal and enthusiastic young people who were not shy of cheering on the dancers, giving standing ovations and thriving on the loud music from the stage (and the ear-splitting CDs being played in the dress circle bar.) So what had they come to see?

Sampled offered smorgasbord snippets of the goodies that will be gracing the stage of Sadlers Wells Theatre this coming season. This show, like cinema trailers, entices viewers to decide what to see, or what to miss. However, there was nothing shown in Sampled that should be missed. The mix of styles, performers, productions for the Wells’ 2012/13 season is vast and looks like another winner for Chief Executive and Artistic Director Alistair Spalding – now a CBE (and rightly so for his untiring efforts in making his theatre the internationally recognized dance centre it has become.) The bill for next year, according to Sampled, includes hip hop, flamenco, pristine classical ballet, contemporary works – many from new young choreographers – and yet more hip hop a la TV’s pop-style programmes.

The programme opened with Paco Pena’s Flamenco Dance Company performing an extract from his 2010 work, Quimeras. It would have paid to read the programme notes beforehand as, instead of expected flamenco dancers, the first people on stage were African performers, one of whom issued forth huge belly laughs, until the audience was laughing with him. Then, clicking and singing out rhythms, the others began to slowly wiggle then dance full out, to the delight of the audience. They were joined by a female dancer who set off with such speed around the stage in uninhibited physical jerks, that she looked as though she might do herself damage. They were in full swing when the drama began. Searchlights flashed over them, police sirens wailed and the dancers crouched in fear. From the opposite side of the stage, dark shirted ‘officials’ with fast hand clapping and heel stomping appeared en masse and confronted them rather like the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story. They began to threaten and intimidate the cowering dancers who, according to the programme notes, were African immigrants who’d come to Spain to find jobs. It was a fascinating mix of styles and made for exciting viewing – the Spanish dancers aloof and controlled in their impressive footwork, accompanied by throaty singing (alas no name credited) and Pena’s own fantastic guitar playing, and the fevered drumming and spritely leapings of the African team.

Paco Peña's <I>Quimeras</I>.<br />© Andy Phillipson / livewireimage. (Click image for larger version)
Paco Peña’s Quimeras.
© Andy Phillipson / livewireimage. (Click image for larger version)

Cathy Waller won the London Dance Award 2012 recently, as well as the Blueprint Bursary, and her work, Tempo, for four women is absorbing in its physical control and unison, accompanied by the brilliantly-played original percussion score by Christopher Preece. Hannah Dial, Yukiko Masui, Maddy Morgan and Kassie Starkey crouched, stretched and were impeccably together like synchronized swimmers, their pony tails swishing as their toned bodies performed the intricacies of the floor patternings.

The next work was my favourite and that of many in the audience, given the stomping and cheering standing ovation at the end. Ihsan Rustem’s State of Matter, originally created in Portland, Oregon in 2010, is inspired by a poem about clouds (The Clouds Inside, by Benjamin Wardell) and the words were spoken during the dancing. But there was nothing fluffy or vaporous about this work. Starting with a pair of legs in the spotlight, then an upside down head, and electric vibes that sent chests pulsating in the stalls, the curtain lifted on a man in flesh y-fronts and a girl with similar pants and a filmy top. They moulded their bodies together in unhurried yet beautiful movement, oozing elegance and style. As they were joined by five other dancers in black, the music changed, the backdrop lifted to show a brightly lit stage and the poetry reading began explaining that “we are most like clouds: drifting condensations continually torn apart and reformed by the patterns of atmospheric wind.”And thus did the dancers express themselves, pulled together to form beautiful clusters, or separated and drifting, blown along by the music. Rustem won the Sadlers Wells Global Dance contest in 2011 and shows here in State of Matter that he is certainly a young talent to watch. He has a perceptive way of stating his thoughts, allowing slow developing detailing to bring out the full potential of his splendid dancers, rather than the frenetic dancing so popular with his contemporaries. His group here in State of Matter – Andrea Parsons, Ching Ching Wong, Elijah Labay, Franco Nieto, Lindsey Matheis, Patrick Kibane, Samantha Campbell – at times seemed, like clouds, weightless, while at others their movements echoed the dark bodings of storms. It was a great end to the first half.

After the interval, the curtain lifted to show a screen on which a grainy phone video showed two men competing with each other in a make-believe tennis match high up on a roof overlooking London. When the ‘ball’ drops over the side, they whizz down and continue playing in the street, enjoying elaborate movements. Finally they enter some public gardens, vying up and down the pathways like a Monty Python episode, until a little collie dog trots along, jumps and makes off with their imaginary ball. Great fun!

Back to the serious stuff and this was a snippet from another young budding and talented choreographer, James Cousins, who has won the New Adventures Choreographer Award, ‘selected from hundreds. His duet from ‘There we have been” with Lisa Welham and Aaron Vickers was an amazing piece of dance in which the two evidenced supreme control in their Velcro entwining. She wrapped herself around his body like some wily snake, then was lifted up high before being dropped to just inches off the floor. Their superbly-balanced intricate patterns, like beautiful complicated fair-isle knitting, gave plenty of opportunity to show her fragility, her hyper-extensions and acrobatic skills along with his Olympian strength at weight-lifting – her feet hardly touched the floor throughout. The extract, which was somewhat long, nevertheless was admirably performed.

Publicity image for James Cousins, winner of the New Adventures Choreographer Award.<br />© James Cousins. (Click image for larger version)
Publicity image for James Cousins, winner of the New Adventures Choreographer Award.
© James Cousins. (Click image for larger version)

Jonzi D is obviously an institution given the reaction when he came on stage. He started with a stand-up comic routine before doing an extract from his Aeroplane Man, which involved plenty of running and breathless talking. Perhaps it is more exciting when done as a full-length work with its cast of nine and full band, but here it seemed a bit thin – and long.

It seemed strange at this point to sandwich in a classical ballet pas de deux between two hip hop segments, but this was the spot it was given. The stage looked stark and cold without sets and, due to an injured Prince who could partner but not dance, the more subdued White Swan rather than Black Swan duet was performed. English National Ballet principals Daria Klimentova and Zdenek Konvalina reminded that ballet is also on the Sadlers Wells map, and she expressed graceful, eloquent style, showing off her fine technique, musicality and understanding of the classical movements. He made a good if somewhat unexciting partner – perhaps he was in pain but he showed absolutely no emotion in the snippet.

Finally it was time for Da Bratz, a collection of youngsters from Boy Blue Entertainment in Generation: Next 2012 who showed off their hip hop and street dance skills with great enthusiasm and sense of fun and dedication. Their cheerfulness ended the evening on a high note – and hopefully plenty of bookings at the box office next season.

About the author

Margaret Willis

Margaret Willis’s interest in ballet stems from a five-year stay in the former Soviet Union (1976-81) where she studied classical ballet and began writing on dance. Visiting Cuba in 1990, she first saw Carlos Acosta and has continued to follow his stellar career. She was a member of London City Ballet from 1990-3, performing principal character roles, is the author of Russian Ballet on Tour and contributed several articles for the International Dictionary of Ballet. She writes regularly for The Dancing Times, Dance Magazine and international publications. In 1986, she was the researcher for a BBC-TV documentary on the Bolshoi Ballet and in 2010 wrote "Carlos Acosta: The Reluctant Dancer" (Arcadia books).

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