Sadler's Wells Sampled

Sadler's Wells
Sadler's Wells

Sadler's Wells Sampled, Killer Pig, Rambert2 Credit: Ian Gavin

Saturday night is buzzing at the Wells. From breakdancing, hip-hop to beat boxing, there's the chance to try out moves in workshops around the foyer before, during and after the show. The house is rammed and the mood is upbeat. We caught Breakin’ Convention’s Freestyle Funk Forum, hip hop answer to Who’s Line Is It Anyway.

“How many people have never been to Sampled before?" Jonzi D of Breaking Convention asks the audience. Dozens of hands shoot up. Good news, not just for Sadler’s Wells, but for the future of dance as an art form. Sadler’s Wells is brilliant at tapping into newfound energy and interest. With half of the seats taken out of the auditorium to allow for standing room at a fiver, what’s not to like?

The first work, Uchennna Dance, The Head Wrap Diaries, shines boldly bright in amongst the mishmash menu. This is a powerfully seductive piece where the dancers are so completely in touch with their bodily curves and rhythms. Their movement, they say, is all about championing power for women and confidence oozes out of every pore of their beings with great physical strength and femininity. Vicki Igbokwe's choreography, a diverse mix of waaking, vogue, African and contemporary dance, is fluid, allowing dancers the breathing space to interpret the material in their own way. Lighting dramatically highlights sweeping dance patterns as they weave through body, shapes and fabric. And imagery of fabric, either robed or donned as headdresses is a powerful metaphor for female strength. It is a joy to watch.

Patrica Guerrero’s Proceso Eterno continues the theme of female figures dominating the space in her spirited performance of flamenco. Guerreo’s toe tapping and foot stamping resembles a bullfighter and flamenco dancer rolled into one. It’s a sight to behold as the performer, donned in black, floor-length dress, stamps, her body rippling away from traditional female flamenco into a contemporary frame.

Then Rambert 2 brings the house down with an excerpt from Killer Pig, a barbed, ferocious mix of clubbing and imprisonment, where dancers strut and stride from catwalk to clubbing then jolt into more disturbing territory with continuous, hypnotic rhythm. It’s hard not to be pulled into a trance-like state as they move in unison across the stage. This piece is ablaze in unstoppable, rhythmic brilliance where dancers move sequentially, originating in Sharon Eyals extraordinary choreography grounded in the gaga method to a compulsive musical score by Ori Lichtik.

Richard Alston’s latest work, Brahms Hungarian, set to Brahms's Hungarian Dances for Piano played live by Jason Ridgeway, is more classical. The choreography's clean lines and sharp responses to the music takes in all its nuances and is pleasant to watch, though compared to some of the more gripping contemporary works, it feels like a breezy stroll on a spring day rather than digging deep under the skin.

Mavin Khoo’s Odissi Solo is another classical piece from Indian dance, accompanied by four Indian classical musicians. I’m not sure that it transcends cultural boundaries as suggested, and it often feels confusing as there is clearly a rich language embedded in each of his inflections, though it’s hard to follow what the signs mean without background. On an aesthetic level, Khoo executes his movements with simple accuracy and moments of stillness render him of another time and place: an ancient being, a sculpture that’s come to life with painted red palms.

Classical ballet excerpts are received with less enthusiasm. Out of the two pas de deux performed, the second, William Forsyth’s Neue Suite, works better in the form of an excerpt. It’s incredible to watch willowy arms and long legs of Sangeun Lee as they wrap themselves around her partner, Raphael Coumes-Marquet with poetic elegance, while the form of Forsyth’s choreography acts is a showcase for her effortless technique.

BirdGang ends the programme on an energetic high with What is BirdGang? The dancers are hidden behind masks and use hip-hop and break dancing to express unease in a series of nebulous environments that feel mysterious. Not seeing the dancers' faces adds to the intensity of bodily movement and focus, though it has a touch of horror film, The Return of the Living Dead, about it, especially when the lights shine bright green on dancers. Technique in this 20-strong troupe is phenomenally sharp and exciting to watch, offering up a deeper underlying message that challenges male-female stereotypes in this genre.

Tonight may be a mixed bag, but in terms of laying down the dance landscape in all its glorious diversity, then Sampled is a roaring success.

Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi

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