National Youth Dance Company: (in between)
Stuttgart Ballet: Romeo and Juliet pdd, Fanfare LX
Storyboard P: Hip hop showcase
Vagabond Crew: Alien
Alexander Whitley: The Measures Taken
Facundo de la Cruz and Paola Sanz: Tango showcase
London, Sadler’s Wells
26-27 June 2013
Sampled – the showcase within a festival of the same name – returns to Sadler’s Wells with a programme of bite-sized dance works from around the world. French B-boys rub shoulders with the Stuttgart Ballet; Argentine tango and flexing from the streets of New York mingle with new work from UK artists.
The evening opens with a striking image – the 30 dancers of the new National Youth Dance Company seem to float, inverted, a few inches from the surface of the stage; thirty pairs of arms gently ripple through the air as if the bodies they are attached to are floating above the ground. The company came together earlier this year under the care of Guest Artistic Director Jasmin Vardimon; (in between) is a typically uncompromising Vardimon affair, tinged with violent intensity.
According to the programme note, (in between) is inspired by the performers’ own precarious balance between childhood and adulthood; the performers enact this balance by dancing on thirty foot-high stumps of wood that prove to be as insecure as they look. A serene gestural sequence, performed in spellbinding unison by the majority of the cast, is interrupted as dancer after dancer is chopped down; the image of living, moving bodies felled like lumber is unsettlingly memorable. Following the cull, a mass of bodies twist, collapse and jerk up to standing again under the puppet-like control of a central figure standing on another log – a depiction of mass powerlessness in the face of unnamed authority that is arrestingly powerful. (in between) is a fine piece of dance theatre performed with mature sensitivity by its talented young cast.
In an alternate universe, there is a programme in which Vardimon’s hyper-authentic, physical work was followed by Douglas Lee’s thrillingly modern pas de deux, Fanfare LX. What happened instead was that the Stuttgart Ballet performed Lee’s duet in the second half and offered a pas de deux from John Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet in the first, causing an awkward gear-shift into the stylised conventions of mid-century story ballet. As Royal Ballet-trained Alexander Jones ran gracefully onto the stage, trailing a silk cape behind him as only a ballet character who has never been near the real world can, the audience broke into audible guffaws; Hyo-Jung Kang’s Juliet looking anywhere but upstage for her apparently invisible lover did little to help the situation.
The two principals handle Cranko’s musical detail well; but the pas de deux suffers from being shown out of context, stripped of its wider narrative. The busy choreography gives the couple little time to breathe, much less to emote, so busy are they fitting Cranko’s little beaten jumps and multiple supported pirouettes into the score. Fanfare LX, with its Bonachela-like shapes and strongly accented lines suits the couple better, and would have made a much kinder transition from the opening piece.
Storyboard P is a hip-hop artist – a mutant storyteller working with a style that recalls stop-motion animation – who has been viewed over 900 million times on YouTube. Returning to the Sadler’s Wells stage following an acclaimed performance at last year’s Breakin’ Convention, the Brooklyner’s set this year was a bit of an oddity; much of it found the dancer hidden beneath dense clouds of smoke puffing on from the wings. Between bursts of fog, P slides his body around on liquid ankles, flexing arms and hands to the unexpected sounds of Phil Collins. The piece has an interesting semi-improvised quality and at half the length could be an intriguing piece of urban dance theatre; as it stands, P’s set wanders into the arena of directionless.
A much more engaging hiphop proposition comes from French B-boys Vagabond Crew, current holders of the prestigious Battle Of The Year title. Alien naturally showcases this multi-ethnic crew’s dazzling physical skills; choreographer Mohamed Belarbi also understands the craft of stage composition well, clustering his dancers together into squirming alien configurations, splitting and fracturing them again into individual bodies. The crowd at Sampled is a little less boisterous than the one that greeted the crew at Breakin’ Convention, but no less warm in its whooping applause at the final curtain.
Royal Ballet Affiliate Choreographer Alexander Whitley shows an extract from his work-in-progress, The Measures Taken, a contemporary quintet examining Man’s relationship with technology. The technology element is represented on stage with striking lighting effects, created by the rather splendidly-named Marshmallow Laser Feast; solid-looking beams of purple light criss-cross the stage in a network that cuts across the dancers as they dodge and block. The humans (including former Rambert colleagues Eryck Brahmania, Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon) flow and connect like packets of digital data, or users on a social network, forming and reforming into attractive clumps. It goes without saying that the cast dance exquisitely, but beyond the pretty lighting The Measures Taken conveys little about human relationships with technology.
The surprise stars of the evening were Tango World Champions Facundo de la Cruz and Paola Sanz. Their section was striking in its simplicity – two café tables, three orchestral exitos, and a pair of sensual dancers skimming the floor with gliding tango steps. There were interlocking legs and eye-catching lines, but the true thrill was in the authentic execution – Sanz hovering by de la Cruz’s cheek, responding with her alert body to his every command, oozing over the music in a luscious whirl of partnered improvisation. Arresting sets, statement lighting and prominent movement effects all have their place in dance theatre, but sometimes the simplest pleasure is to be had from watching two people do something really, really well.