BWW Review: SADLER'S WELLS SAMPLED, Sadler's Wells
Sadler's Wells' annual pick 'n' mix buffet of dance offerings returns again for a selection of live performances and interactive front-of-house experiences.
The evening, running for two nights only, offers a mix of easy-to-digest crowd-pleasers with some more thought-provoking or abstract work that leave more to unpick.
The audience react enthusiastically to all, but in the festival-like format, where the stalls seats are stripped out and the relaxed viewers ponder the performances over a drink, the less impactful "samples" - such as Mavin's Khoo's classical Indian dance, Odissi Solo - feel poorly matched to the format, despite their flair.
Overall, it's an exciting programme, and the introductory video that accompanies prior to each performance adds a valuable layer of accessibility to proceedings.
This year's Sampled is topped and tailed by powerful and charismatic contemporary performances. The first is a feisty and flirtatious routine from the ladies of Uchenna Dance in The Head Wrap Diaries. Vicki Igbokwe's choreography showcases these flirtatious ladies with their undulating hips in a work of empowering femininity whilst blending diverse styles of waacking and vogueing with African dance. The result is joyful and feel-good, and certainly puts the audience in fine voice for the rest of the night.
Whilst Uchenna's charm is through their vibrant personalities, hip-hop act BirdGang's weapon is their slick choreography and original concept. Their piece, What Is BirdGang?, sees them don masks that leave us unbale to identify male and female, and focuses attention on the pumping physicality of their movements, making for a dynamic finale.
Last season saw a well-received programme from Dresden's Semperoper Ballett, and here they return with two varied pas de deux: a sparkling Balanchine number from Jewels - in Diamonds - and William Forsythe's Bach Duet, choreographed to Allemande Partita No. 1.
Diamonds is usually amongst my favourite ballets; one of the first abstract classical works, it sparkles in both choreography and costume. But here on the bare Sadler's Wells stage, dancers Sangeun Lee and Raphaël Coumes-Marquet can't quite bring it to life. It's one of the only components of the evening not be accompanied by live music and struggles to make impact. Lee and Marquet dance nervously; the partnering is tentative when it should be steeped in grandness.
Thankfully, the Forsythe piece is an improvement. Lee and Marquet deliver it with precision and energy. Lee's beautifully expressive body hits some wonderful lines and the pair respond effectively to each other's movements. The "conversation" of the two bodies, suggested in the prior video clip, is evident to see.
Richard Alston Dance Company shine brightly in Brahms Hungarian. It's a highly musical, fluid work from Alston, enhanced by the live score played by Jason Ridgeway. The dancers move freely, the women is billowing floral dresses to the captivating accompaniment. The moves vary from classical to contemporary, with Alston's trademark eye for the aesthetically pleasing, both smooth and majestic.
July will see Sadler's' annual Flamenco Festival take place. Here it was represented in ravishing style by dancer/choreographer Patricia Guerrero, whose ferociously fast feet firstly brood calmly before the percussion is replaced by Sergio El Colorao's vocals and Guerrero's flashy foot-stamping peaks in a compelling climax.
The programme is completed a further mix of styles, including a thrillingly physical excerpt from Rambert2 in Sharon Eyal's Killer Pig. It features eight effervescent dancers demonstrating an intense agility in an uncompromising work of expression and honesty.
Sampled remains an important and diverse evening of dance. It enables those with honed tastes to plan their selections for the upcoming season and offers those new to dance a versatile programme exposing new genres.
Some elements still require tightening - at times, this can feel like a bloated night of overlong pauses while stages are reset, with too little of some things and too much of others - but ultimately the audience's patience is rewarded, and there is much to enjoy.