Sadler’s Wells Sampled, 2019 – London

BirdGang in <I>What is BirdGang?</I>.<br />© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)
BirdGang in What is BirdGang?.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)

Sadler’s Wells Sampled
London, Sadler’s Wells
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
8 February 2019

Once a year Sadler’s Wells puts on Sampled, a pick and mix of the types of dance you might see at the venue. The front stalls seats are taken out, and standing in that area is only a fiver, with cheap tickets in general. The formula is a successful one. The place is packed and there is a party atmosphere. This audience is determined to have a good time and greets the performers with whoops and real warmth. Sampled is a useful taster for anyone wanting to find out more about the London dance scene in a single evening: anyone could come away from this having found a genre or performers they want to explore more, though we won’t all be finding the same one.

There are eight works on the bill, an eclectic mix spanning Indian classical dance, flamenco, hip hop, ballet and various strands of contemporary dance. The pieces are usually short, mostly no longer than twelve minutes. There were some awkward pauses between numbers which on any other night might have tried the audience’s patience but didn’t dim the loud appreciation here.

As with any programme of this type, some pieces are going to make more of an impact than others.  Some items might be a delicious morsel, but with others it’s more like having to eat your greens.

Uchenna Dance: Head Wrap Diaries Fierce and Free.© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)
Uchenna Dance: Head Wrap Diaries Fierce and Free.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)

We get off to lively start with an excerpt from The Head Wrap Diaries made by Vicki Igbokwe for her company, Uchenna Dance. It was a good choice as an opening item. Six women take ownership of the stage, in African influenced movement manipulating big square scarfs, the headwraps of the title which can be skirts or banners as well as dressing the head. They stalk forward, confident and sassy. “Ladies you have arrived” says a voice on the soundtrack, and indeed so they have.  Eleven minutes of fun, though it wasn’t clear if there was enough variety to sustain a longer piece. Loud yells from the audience for this one.

Mavin Khoo in an Odissi Solo to live music.© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)
Mavin Khoo in an Odissi Solo to live music.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)

It’s a complete change of atmosphere for Mavin Khoo’s Odissi solo which follows. The movement here is very measured and carefully controlled. The arms with their red painted hands unfurl deliberately. It doesn’t claim the stage in the way the Uchenna women did but pulls you towards it to admire the small details: the twist of the wrists, the flickering of the fingers, each careful placement of a foot. Khoo looks completely at home in this, though rather sweetly in the introductory film he said he hadn’t danced this solo since he was 14. He is accompanied by four musicians, in one of the few works of the evening to incorporate live music, a definite plus point.

Semperoper Ballett: Sangeun Lee and Raphael Coumes-Marquet in Forsythe's Bach Duet.© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)
Semperoper Ballett: Sangeun Lee and Raphael Coumes-Marquet in Forsythe’s Bach Duet.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)

Other works suffered in terms of recorded music. The ballet strand of the evening was provided by two dancers from Dresden’s Semperoper Ballett who visited the Wells last year. This time they brought the pas de deux from Balanchine’s Diamonds. It wasn’t an easy thing to pull off: in a short excerpt the mystery and grandeur of the full work was hard to establish, and the recorded score didn’t help. English National Ballet’s PlayList (Track 1, 2) which appeared here last year might have made a more upbeat choice which would have suited the occasion.  All the same, it was good to make the acquaintance of Raphael Coumes-Marquet, an attentive partner, and the elegant and refined Sangeun Lee, who I would be very happy to see again in any classical role.  The pair appeared again in the second half in a Forsythe duet from Neue Suite, in a sharper and more angular vocabulary.

Each item was preceded by a short film introducing the work, some of which were illuminating, but not always in a good way. One of the Rambert2 performers voiced the opinion that the style of Sharon Eyal’s Killer Pig (the work closing the first half) was something new and not often seen in the UK.  It seems to me to be seen only too often in the works of many choreographers here and doesn’t get any more memorable or illuminating on repeat viewing. The full-length piece was in Rambert2‘s programme here last year: this excerpt was 20 minutes and still felt way too long. Much energy was expended by a talented cast to a noisy soundtrack, but little remains memorable.

Rambert2: Salome Pressac in Killer Pig.© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)
Rambert2: Salome Pressac in Killer Pig.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)

By contrast the excerpt from Richard Alston Dance Company’s Brahms Hungarian seemed too short at ten minutes.  This was a preview of Alston’s new work which comes in full to the Wells in March. Here the music is played live by the onstage pianist Jason Ridgway.  The dancers might be a group of friends, eddying, mixing and mingling in various combinations, impelled by the Brahms music.  There are hints of folksiness in the dance and the dancers occasionally clap their hands imperiously in just the same gesture that you would see in Raymonda.  It was a calm and lucid response to the music, good humoured and affectionate.

A Sampled evening would not be complete without a dash of flamenco, and here is was provided by Patricia Guerrero, plus a percussionist and singer in Processo Eterno. The interaction between dancer and musicians was what stuck in the mind here, with the singer wrapping the giant shawl around Guerrero’s shoulders with striking tenderness. She returns this summer as part of the Wells’s Flamenco Festival in July.

Patricia Guerrero in Proceso Eterno.© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)
Patricia Guerrero in Proceso Eterno.
© Foteini Christofilopoulou. (Click image for larger version)

These evenings typically feature a big closing work, and that slot went to BirdGang, the hip hop theatre company with their work What is BirdGang. This is a substantial piece for twelve dancers, all identically clad. Their faces are obscured by masks. They could by anyone of either sex, it’s only at the curtain call that we get to see their faces. You might have expected to see some flashy moves or crowd-pleasing stunts. Yes of course they can do these and oblige with leaps, spins and somersaults, but the energy is tightly controlled, and there is a concentration on group discipline and tightly coordinated moves. It’s not quite as upbeat as you might have imagined for a programme closer. There is something more melancholy and bleak in the atmosphere of the work and it ends on an unexpectedly downbeat note.

Sampled is about more than just the main stage, with many workshops and classes over the weekend, and the foyers are dotted with artworks and video presentations – one from Botis Seva looked to be getting plenty of attention.  It might be easy to think of selections you might prefer to see or think others might prefer but the point is to get a look at the less familiar. Sampled is great at providing cheap access to a wide variety of forms. Long may it continue.

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