It’s a relief to escape from the polling stations and enter the dynamic, theatrical world of Sardoville at Chisenhale Dance Space. Sardoville is a tight-knit community of three dancer/choreographers, Phil Sanger, Azzura Ardovini and Josh Wille whose new work A Matter of Impression demonstrates what this fresh, new company is all about. They present two parts to their programme: Impressed Upon is high-octane dance-theatre exploring the darker side of social dance such as in the medieval Dancing Plague and the disreputable Dance Marathon’s of the 30’s while Attempting to Impress, by guest choreographer Luca Silvestrini is a lighter, reflective piece which looks at the business of creating a performance.
In Impressed Upon the dancers hurl themselves across the studio in gutsy leaps or throw themselves onto the floor. They embody a punishing physicality punctuated by manic scratching and twitching, like people possessed. Ardovini takes it in turns to partner first Sanger, then Wille and in these duets they seem to take comfort in each other, supporting one another’s manic physical disorders. In their grotesque antics and gargoyle-like facial expressions, they become carnivalesque characters but what is particularly fascinating is how their pristine white linen shirts stain black as they sweat. Interactive costumes by Andrew Walker which gradually change colour as the dancers move are brilliant inventions and further emphasise the horrible images of Strasbourg’s Dancing Plague in the 1500’s that inspires the work.
In another section the performer run persistently on the spot as the sounds of Caterina McEvoy’s sampled Bolero crescendos. With gazes fixed on the audience and bodies tense with determination the three survivors keep going like the American contestants who entered the endurance testing Dance Marathons. Finally they stutter and stagger with exhaustion until they collapse into one another, like a group of knackered clowns. Here in the bare studio with minimal costume, no imagery is too literal but what Sardoville does communicate through gesture and motion is the politically destabilising effect that large groups of people dancing out of control can have on society; like unwitting dances of resistance.
An interval which is the transition between the two parts of the evening follows. But in true deconstructed style, it is incorporated into the show. As the three take a break, wipe the black dye off their bodies and change, Sanger talks confessionally about the work and the company. He speaks easily and intimately about his colleagues, shares biographical information about them and discusses why they want to show the audience the process of making a piece. Weaving in fact and fiction, Sanger questions what we want from a show and then embarks on a running commentary about what Ardovini and Wille are doing. Before we know it we are witnessing Silvestrini’s Attempting to Impress which is a self-conscious ‘open studio’, an invitation into Sardoville’s world and the challenges faced by a new dance company.
Dance flows through the narrative, the snippets of personal information and contemplations about performance making. Sometimes there’s a bit too much information and in-house jokes that we don’t need to hear but all are seductive performers, seamlessly integrating text with exhilarating technique and contact work. Collectively they share plenty of insight into the making process, through demonstrations of various levels of interaction and sensory awareness which could have been tedious, had it not been for their delicious sense of irony. As they each talk about personal idiosyncratic traits and tenderly about each other’s, what shines through is both their closeness as a group and their individuality within it. I don’t want to be on the ‘inside’ every time I watch dance, but this ‘self-reflection’ works because of their frankness and humour.
A Matter of Impression is touching and riveting while Sardoville is a company that exudes energy, skill and inquisitive minds.