National Youth Dance Company – (in between)
RIOT Company – RIOT Offspring
London, Sadler’s Wells
8 June 2013
This was the premiere performance of the National Youth Dance Company. This is a new initiative funded by Arts Council England and the Department of Education, using Lottery funds, to give performance opportunities for dancers aged between 16 and 19. The thirty dancers have been recruited by audition from across England and the scheme is intended to continue for future years, expanding the size of the troupe, with a new guest artistic director each year. The range of styles taught and performed is expected to be fairly eclectic, including contemporary, hip hop and South Asian dance. It is cheering to hear of investment in opportunities for dancers though it does seem odd that this takes place when funds for dance vocational training seem more squeezed than ever.
Jasmin Vardimon has been the director for this initial period and has created a 25-minute work entitled “(in between)” . It’s a rather irritating title which I hope won’t put off potential audiences when the work tours to Salford and Bristol later this month. Vardimon has harnessed the energy and liveliness of her diverse cast to produce a briskly-paced work which celebrates the group but still has moments which let the individuality of some of the cast shine through.
It’s not clear exactly what experience of dance the young cast has had previously. There is no partnering for them or much by way of jumps, but they have a strong relationship with the ground and slide or roll across it as if loathe to part from it. The work opens with a memorable image. All the dancers are doing a headstand with their arms gently moving, each balanced again tree stumps which form moveable parts of the set. The curtain descends again before reopening to show us a backdrop of a birch forest. The music is a collage of recorded items.
The tendril-like movement of the arms and fingers carries on through the rest of the piece. The dancers balance on their tree stumps, are chopped down like trees by others, and arrange the stumps in a line negotiated by a fierce young woman in black who appears to direct proceedings with her twining arms.
It’s a promising beginning, and I wish the company well. There have been previous initiatives: a National Youth Dance Company existed at the end of the 1990s, which commissioned a range of new works. I recall one from Cathy Marston which was performed in the Linbury in 2001. I hope the current company can be longer-lived than this earlier incarnation.
The second item on the bill (oddly without an interval) was RIOT Offspring. This is the final production in Sadler’s three String of Rites productions which commemorate a hundred years since the premiere of the Rite of Spring. The music was performed live by the Southbank Sinfonia, an orchestra which supplies performance and training opportunities to newly graduated players. It was conducted by Gerry Cornelius, and from my seat was agreeably loud and full blooded.
The work is made for a series of community dance groups that total in all more than one hundred performers. These include Sadler’s associates the Company of Elders, who are all above sixty years of age, through all ages right down to a children’s group and some mothers with babies. The youngest on stage was eight months old. Five different choreographers were involved, Ivan Blackstock, Mafalda Deville, Pascal Merighi, Simeon Qsyea and Sebastien Ramirez. They bring a wide range of influences to bear. Merighi was a member of Pina Bausch’s company, Deville was a member of Jasmin Vardimon’s and the others have wide experience in hip hop and commercial theatre.
There was ample potential here for chaos. However, since the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, it has been possible to think that, you know, it might just be possible that we could actually be rather good at this sort of big occasion dance thing. It was a decent attempt at the Everest of dance scores, with some striking moments.
The curtain opens on a stage covered in piles of scraps of newspaper. A couple of toddlers run across it. To the sound of that familiar bassoon solo, hands start to emerge from the piles like plants from the earth and a group of children emerge. The paper gets tossed in all directions. Later it forms a long pile on which a line of dancers lie face down: a little toddler walks very gravely and carefully along their backs (assisted by mother).
It’s always a cheering thing to see the Company Of Elders. Few other people look quite so fantastically pleased to be alive, on stage and dancing. Here where some of them are lifted and carried by the younger generation they seem utterly delighted. There’s a more sinister note as the costuming changes to white decontamination suits and lines of performers sweep all the paper away.
The production is intended to reflect some thoughts on the riots of 2011, but there aren’t many obvious touches of narrative until the concluding section. Then the youthful bodies pile up into a human mound which is lit to become a burning pyre.