Neon Dance – Sadler’s Wells Wild Card bill – London

Empathy by Neon Dance.© Tonje Thilesen. (Click image for larger version)
Empathy by Neon Dance.
© Tonje Thilesen. (Click image for larger version)

Neon Dance
Wild Card – an evening of diverse music and dance

London, Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Studio
22 March 2018

A wild card can mean many things but the two most common interpretations both involve value. It can be a playing card with any worth the holder wishes; or, it could be a lucrative late passage into the main draw at Wimbledon, without having to qualify. In the context of this event, Wild Card appears to mean that anything goes.

It is, in fact, a series of events, in which fresh perspectives focus ‘…the spotlight on different corners of the dance world.’ That freshness comes through each evening being curated by a representative of an emerging generation of dance-makers. On this occasion, that responsibility fell to Adrienne Hart, artistic director of Neon Dance, resident company at Swindon Dance: Hart is also in the final year of the Sadler’s Wells Summer University Programme, which began in 2015.

She is to be applauded for meeting the objectives of the Wild Card manifesto by curating a diverse programme, comprising art installations, film, photography, a DJ, dance, live music and a laser light show, some of which was integrated; most following in a random succession of divergent experiences. Hart also met the objectives of a worldwide theme, bringing, for example, a snippet of authentic Thai dance and composers and musicians from Canada and Berlin.

Empathy by Neon Dance.© Miles Hart. (Click image for larger version)
Empathy by Neon Dance.
© Miles Hart. (Click image for larger version)

All-in-all, it was a strange and eclectic evening, fluctuating from the sublime to the excruciatingly boring. Bum-numbingly boring, in fact, since the audience was required to sit on the floor of the Lilian Baylis Studio for two acts of 45 minutes’ each. My student days are long gone and sitting on the floor is nowadays an activity confined to beach and picnic (preferably together) and not an unforgiving, hard, dance floor. Note to Sadler’s Wells: there should be chairs for those that need them.

At the high end of quality was an extraordinary improvised encounter between pianist, John Kameel Farah, and dancer, Maëva Berthelot. Her fractured, dislocated movement was absorbing: frequently essaying a lolloping marionette, heavily accented with the muscular control of hip-hop and occasionally (surprisingly) slipping into a neoclassical ballet reference; and her tight inter-play with live music enhanced the close-quarter intimacy of an arresting performance.

Hart’s curation referenced the fact that this performance took place on the 88th day of the year (impossible though it seems), which is the annual occasion for International Piano Day (because of the 88 keys) and the piano played a big part in the evening, which concluded with Farah’s solo, Fugual Metamorphosis. The first act had ended with Anne Müller’s over-long cello solo; layering real-time music with computer generated sound and eerie vocals. Notwithstanding Müller’s undoubted passion and virtuosity, it would have been OK at half the length.

Pichet Klunchun, a contemporary Thai dancer, performed Hart’s choreography in a brief capsule of the Mahajanaka, one of the surviving, ancient Jataka tales, about a shipwrecked prince and the goddess who saves him, danced by Tilly Webber. Klunchun’s powerful dexterity and expressive hand movements provided a fascinating – and unusual – experience and Webber performed with a controlled elegance that provided a countermeasure to Berthelot’s improvisational excellence in the preceding piece. The accompanying Thai musicians added to the authenticity of a work that would be worth seeing in an expanded form.

Empathy by Neon Dance.© Tonje Thilesen. (Click image for larger version)
Empathy by Neon Dance.
© Tonje Thilesen. (Click image for larger version)

A recurring dance theme came in three extracts of a dance, also by Hart, entitled Empathy, performed by Aoi Nakamura, Dafni Krazoudi and Andras Fodor, wearing skin-tight, ice-blue unitards, designed by Ana Rajcevic; an aesthetic ruined in one case by the ridges caused by shorts and layers of other underwear. I found it the weakest of the three danced pieces although it was significantly enlivened by the impact of colourful laser and lighting designs. By contrast, the art installations and associated soundscapes, in the Kahn and Fox Garden Court, prior to the performance in the LBS, were largely uninspiring.

Nonetheless, Hart curated an interesting evening of diverse music and dance, with enough pianism to satisfy the plug for International Piano Day (Farrah’s virtuosity was a highlight) and showcasing several samples of her own work. It has encouraged me to see more of Neon Dance whenever the chance arises.

About the author

Graham Watts

Dance Writer/Critic. Member of the Critics' Circle, Chairman of the Dance Section and National Dance Awards Committee. Writes for leading dance magazines & websites - in UK, Europe, USA, Japan & cyberspace. Graham is based in London.

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