Sadler’s Wells was buzzing with energy and enthusiasm for the premiere performance of The Rashomon Effect / Vertical Road by the National Youth Dance Company. All schools and youth performances have a lively air of expectation about them but there is a particularly notable exuberance associated with NYDC. They have good reason to be cheerful. Their programme exploits their open-hearted zest for dancing and gives them some meaty choreographic challenges.
The company has entered its second year. Eleven of the thirty dancers who participated last year remain with the company. Others have moved on to full-time training. That might be the real success of this venture: bringing performers into the dance world who might not otherwise have made that step.
A further new intake of 30 dancers has been recruited this year from auditions up and down the country. (Two thirds of these are male, not necessarily the proportion you would expect.) Next year another 30 will be recruited, and auditions have already been scheduled. Each year there is a new Guest Artistic Director: this year it is Akram Khan. The premiere performance of this year’s works took place at Sadler’s Wells which supports the initiative.
Dancers are eligible if aged between 16 and 18. They come from all over the country and they are a fabulously mixed bunch. At some ballet school shows the participants already look like inhabitants of a slightly different planet where everyone is taller and slimmer and more refined than the occupants of everyday earth, The NYDC dancers are a much more eclectic lot – tall and small, with a wide variety of skin colour and body types. This works well for them in those parts of the programme which mass them in groups. They are entirely credible as a bunch of individuals you might see on the street.
This year’s new intake appears in the first work on the bill, a new creation, The Rashomon Effect. This is choreographed by Andrej Petrovic, a member of Khan’s company. It is directed by Akram Khan. The work has been generously put together. There is a commissioned score by Vincenzo Lamagna, played live by nine members of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. Khan’s name figures rather more prominently than Petrovic’s in the publicity surrounding NYDC, and there isn’t much detail available on any of Petrovic’s other work. Khan’s influence is indeed very marked. The piece does very much have the look and feel of his work.
The “Rashomon” in the title may have given the impression that we might expect some elements of narrative, or maybe alternative versions of narrative as in the film glancingly referred to. Any hints of a story are decidedly oblique however, though still intriguing.
Dancers are dressed all alike in black, a tunic over trousers. The work is haunted by a girl with long flowing red hair, who confronts two or three different men in ambiguous encounters. The individuals are pulled apart or engulfed and swept along by the group. We get short, tantalising solos from some talented individuals. It’s a large group of dancers to marshal, but Khan has dealt with larger numbers in the Olympics opening ceremony and has also been massing the ranks of ENB in his latest work for them. The dancers join hands in a long curving line which could be a medieval dance of death.
Eleven of last year’s graduates return in the second part of the programme to perform an excerpt from Akram Khan’s Vertical Road, which was created for his company in 2010 as a full-length work dealing with themes of spirituality and ritual. This selection from it is about half-an-hour long. If you had the nagging feeling that the original was perhaps over-extended, you may take to this reduced version.
In contrast to the darkness of the first piece, here the dancers are all in long grey gowns which sometimes emit a fine powder or dust. The dominant feature of the staging remains the transparent curtain at the back of the stage behind which a barely-glimpsed figures stands, beating it, sending ripples pulsing and convulsing through it. This quasi-priestess figure (a role done with considerable poise and dignity) eventually emerges from behind the curtain. The other dancers ultimately retreat behind it. The NYDC dances mustered a remarkable gravitas to pull it off.
The company will be touring these works in June and July. They are back at Sadler’s Wells on 28 and 29 June as part of the Sadler’s Sampled festival.