Sadlers Wells Sampled
Friday 2 February, 2007
Sampled is a great idea. Three nights of mixed bill programming featuring almost every major dance style and a raft of excellent companies and performers complemented by a try it yourself taster workshop schedule. Sponsored by Playstation, the tickets were just a tenner for any seat and a measly fiver for standing room at the front (what we call the proms). There were massive Playstations on most levels for the kids to mess around with and a general air of festivity and excitement throughout the venue. One of the most diverse audiences age and background wise I ever seen there and definitely the loudest and most participatory (woop woop!) audience I’ve ever revelled in.
Tonight, I was a punter, having failed to get press tickets early enough and wanting to take several friends along. Front row of the second circle it was which is lovely, if you can get it, but if you’ve been spoiled by freebie stalls tickets once too often it can seem rather far away… but enough of my griping. Compere for the evening was an exuberant Jonzi D, hip hop and contemporary dance maestro and Associate Artist of Sadlers Wells. He owned the stage apron during scene changes getting the crowd to “make some nooooooooise”, bigging up Sadlers and it’s new flirtation with City Centre, New York – where the idea for Sampled originated – freestyling and generally having a whale of time (stopping just this side of pantomime dame, thankfully.)
I should imagine that programming this kind of event is actually a total fucking nightmare as well as an absolute delight. The variety on offer over the three days is awesome and all the performers are top notch in their field and wildly different. The first half tonight kicked off with a contemporary duet from Random Dance; an extract from a full length work Nemesis by Wayne McGregor, another Associate Artist of the Wells. It was a low key opener, demonstrating a version of cutting edge, futuristic contemporary dance but keeping it tame enough not to scare anyone away just yet.
Ramping it up considerably, next came the uber cool Vagabond Crew who presented a stunning piece of hip hop dance theatre, “Aliens”. These b-boys are unbelievably talented and, apparently, boneless and weightless at will. Their flawless mix of breaking, popping and locking, dancing, musicality and showmanship was gobsmacking and got appropriately rambunctious appreciation from the audience.
Possibly the only thing that could follow that and not be disappointing was the comedy martial art antics of Yegam Theatre with an extract from their show “Jump”. Playing on oriental stereotypes this Korean family, all experts in martial arts, spend a typical day practising their skills with slapstick humour galore: acrobatics, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Judo and a big dose of well rehearsed silliness are doled out with elan and it’s a showcase crowd pleaser to lead into the interval.
The second half kept up the pace with the first urban “tap off” I’ve ever seen. Jason Samuels Smith’s ACGI (Anyone Can Get It) & Friends are virtuoso tappers from the US. Three guys and three girls split into stylised street gang factions and tap duel each other – showing off their individual styles and entering into playful oneupmanship. This is no 42nd Street shuffle. The dancers have all the street cred of the Vagabond Crew in tap shoes and are fabulous solo and ensemble performers, oozing charisma and loving what they’re doing: tap like you’ve never seen it and it was the freshest thing on show tonight.
Here’s where we hit the programming glitch. Not only was there an excessively long scene change which meant we were treated to Jonzi D for far too long (bless him – he did a great job – but, you know, he ended up talking about Celebrity Big Brother…) but it seemed that the bill was bottom heavy with chunky contemporary dance compared to the relative lightness and excitement of earlier. Still, rising star, Hofesh Schecter’s “Uprising” was powerful and full of brooding stuff going on to an industrial soundtrack. It was also full of men; 8 men in normal men’s clothes, dancing and tussling together, fighting and hugging, filling the stage with energy and movement. That’s quite rare. They’re normally in catsuits or carrying women around. A stage full of men is good to see. However, “Uprising” went on a bit and lost its way in the middle. Forgivable in this context as it contrasted beautifully with other work on the bill and had strong staging and lighting that made for a very interesting 15 minutes or so.
But, to follow this with Rambert and Swamp suddenly seemed like an error. The audience were full of expectation for a climactic end to the night and, whilst I personally adore Swamp, I couldn’t help wondering if a “Constant Speed” or “bloom” might have fared better with the crowd. I appreciate that, as a mixed bill, a classic piece of contemporary was appropriate but Michael Clark’s beautiful lines, abstract notions and challenging soundscapes seemed to bemuse rather than entrance (although I was riveted). Certainly, exiting the auditorium, audience opinion was very much in favour of the b-boys and the tappers.
That said, this was an extraordinary night of programming for Sadlers and it was a joy to watch such a diverse and top quality night of dance entertainment.
Watch highlights on the Sadlers Wells website here.