Going four years now the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC) keeps getting better and better. In that short period it’s actually gone from nothing to being the brightest celebration of what the country’s young dancers can do and it’s terrific news that their future is assured with a £450K grant from the Department of Education and Arts Council England. And just to underline the commitment, this year’s premiere was attended by the chief exec of the Arts Council and the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, and fine words were said.
What sets NYDC apart from the shows that schools do with their young talent is that it is composed of young dancers, aged 16-18, from across the country, and anybody can audition, including the deaf and disabled, and get an equal hearing. It’s not hidebound into looking for one type of dancer (contemporary, ballet, ethnic etc) and if you’ve got a talent to move any-which-way, then it’s a place to stretch that and link you into the world of professional dance and training. Each year a big name contemporary choreographer becomes the artistic director of the company and creates a work especially for that year’s 40 dancers. They premiere the piece and then in the summer, their school and college years over, they tour it. And many go on to advanced training.
This year’s director is Michael Keegan-Dolan and in an introductory video he beautifully articulated what dancers should be about: they don’t have to be perfect technicians but should dance from the heart and be themselves – not try and be somebody else. And in In – Nocentes that’s exactly what we got: talented young dancers being themselves, full of energy, vibrancy, quirkiness, fun and huge commitment.
They all start seated in a semi-circle, behind and above them the orchestra (good playing by the Southbank Sinfonia of young professional musicians), and after slowly warming up with random thigh slapping they are drawn out to the front to dance in various combinations. In – Nocentes is not a formal piece, but organic and free flowing with each dancer showing their especial talents. Wave after wave of dance variety hits you as Max Richter’s take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons pulses away. It’s most affecting when the whole group are either bunched, and surging with energy, or spread uniformly across the stage, each doing variations on a high-energy theme, limbs flailing. You also have to love the spontaneous hip hop and dance tumbling routines. Inevitably some dancers stand out, for me the oomph and syncopation of the Jaiyeola sisters, Kaylee and Taitlyn, and the wonderful speed and excited abandon of David Prempeh.
They say that the best cooks take the ingredients and do the least to them to create a magnificent meal, and that’s what Keegan-Dolan has done – he didn’t look for his young talent to bend to a strict way of his devising but to take their natural individual exuberance and combine it into a breathtaking whole that had us all doing a standing ovation come the end.
Most (school) student shows usually leave me happy about the excellence of a new generation in whatever the school is about teaching. What NYDC have, especially this year under Michael Keegan-Dolan, is a vision that dance can be anything that pleases, astounds and entertains. Sadler’s Wells and their Creative Learning team under Jane Hackett are to be hugely congratulated for creating such a terrific national institution. And the circle continues with the announcement of dates for the next intake’s Experience Workshops (May – July) from where the next company will be chosen, and that Damien Jalet is the next guest artistic director. Of course what Jalet does with his cohort will inevitably be different. But the main thing is that great (if embryonic) talent will be guided by great talent – and we all win, both in the show they create and for the future as they go on to make an even bigger mark in the world of dance. Bravo.