Sadler’s Wells Sampled is a unique festival, showcasing a wide variety of dance styles, and offers a sneak peak at some of the works to be featured later in the season. An interactive evening, where dance leaks from the stage to the foyer, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
The first performance of the evening came from Uchenna Dance, a contemporary company whose piece ‘The Head Wrap Diaries: Fierce and Free’ certainly got the audience into the festive spirit. Traditional African dance styles – including waacking – blended seamlessly with more contemporary moves to create a piece that felt both transportive and familiar. The Afro House music perfectly complemented the choreography, establishing a club-style atmosphere among the audience. The use of head scarves (the key prop in the piece) was both daring and perfectly executed, with transitions from head pieces to skirts made to seem as simple as breathing. The dancers maintained cohesion throughout the piece whilst each adding their own unique flavour to the choreography. The Head Wrap Diaries lifted the spirits of all watching and provided the perfect opening to the evening.
“Their playful and sometimes contentious interactions felt at once both performative and deeply private…”
Next came Mavin Khoo with his Odissi Solo, accompanied by live musicians. The four musicians proved instrumental to the performance, creating a cohesive and playful dialogue between dancer and music. The piece certainly had strong story telling within its choreography, and Khoo impressively commanded the stage in this solo. Unfortunately, however, the choreography never seemed to lift off the ground, and left the audience feeling something of an anti-climax.
The Semperoper Ballett performed two pieces, an excerpt from the modern ballet ‘Diamonds’ (itself one of a trio of ballets known as ‘Jewels’), and the ‘Bach pas de deux’, a beautiful duet set to the music of Bach. Both pieces proved to be crowd pleasers, as each was handled with grace and expert musicality. ‘Diamonds’ is an abstract piece based upon the precious gemstone. The dazzling costumes make this apparent, however it is in the choreography where the true magic lies. It felt simple and pure yet extravagant and luxurious in equal measures, embodying the allusive allure associated with diamonds. The Bach duet however, felt deeply personal, with the dancers reacting to each other’s movements in such a natural yet expressive way that it almost had a feel of improvisation about it. Both excerpts took the beauty of classical ballet and enhanced it with modern and experimental touches.
Rambert2’s ‘Killer Pig’ excerpt was definitely the highlight of the night. A 20-minute contemporary piece, this highly experimental work encapsulated the audience, and felt uncomfortable in all the right ways. The choreography was demanding, often contorting the dancers’ bodies in unnatural ways, creating an almost visceral atmosphere. The piece was hypnotic in its execution, and truly encapsulated the mood of its title, whilst leaving the audience both amazed and perturbed in equal measure.
Flamenco is not a dance style typically seen in English theatres, but Patricia Guerrero’s ‘Proceso Eterno’ proved why we need to see a lot more of it. Specially commissioned for Sampled, the piece combined modern and traditional aspects of Flamenco in a highly innovative way. The piece comprised of three sections, with Guerrero dancing initially in silence, then with a percussionist, and finally with a male singer. Microphones were used on Guerrero’s shoes, ensuring every movement and interaction with the musicians could be heard and appreciated. It was the section performed with singer Sergio El Colorao that truly brought this piece to life. Their playful and sometimes contentious interactions felt at once both performative and deeply private, as if we had been offered a window into their life, with all the love and complexities it entails.
The interpretation of music was paramount to Richard Alston Dance Company’s performance of ‘Brahms Hungarian’. The choreography brought this iconic music to life, a joyous and playful manner. Having the pianist on stage allowed for the dancers to influence the music as much as it influenced them, to the point where both choreography and composition seemed to be borne of the other. The dancers performed this piece with energy and vivacity, seamlessly amalgamating classical and modern ballet with elements of Hungarian folk dancing. Combined with stunning floral costumes (designed by Fotini Dimou), this excerpt seemed to encapsulate the playfulness and hope of spring.
The final act of the night was the hip-hop group Birdgang, with their piece ‘What is BirdGang?’ The group’s identity centres around their lack of visual individualisation. All wearing matching costumes, including masks and beanies, it is difficult to distinguish between gender and colour, allowing the dancers’ abilities to be the sole preoccupation of the audience. Their dance played upon their mysterious nature, making use of the lighting to keep the audience on their toes. Their synchronicity was second to none, and they managed to maintain it throughout the demanding routine. However, they were let down by their professionalism in use of props and costumes. One dancer’s hat fell off twice during the performance, while others were visibly adjusting their costumes as they left the stage, all of which distracted from their otherwise engaging performance.
Sadler’s Wells Sampled provides a perfect taster for their upcoming season, introducing audiences to new and innovative dance styles. For more information about the evening’s acts and the upcoming season, visit their website at sadlerswells.com