Review: Fresh at The Place

Performance: 3 Dec 11
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Wednesday 7 December 2011

Political Mother, Hofesh Shechter Company. Image Credit: Simona Boccedi

If it’s December, it must be Fresh, The Place’s annual celebration of dance by and for young people. This year’s event brought a particularly dazzling selection of dance to the Robin Howard stage from some of London’s best-known youth dance groups, alongside extracts from inspirational professional companies and topped off with studio workshops from Hofesh Shechter and Tony Adigun.

Early arrivals were greeted by Marginalia from a Phantom Library, a site-specific performance from integrated youth ensemble Cando2, drawing on The Place’s origins as a headquarters for Artists in the War and inspired by the building and its surroundings. Fresh is cutely compered by dance artists Amy Bell and Valentina Golfieri, appearing as their flamboyant altar-egos Patsy and Carmen, who bring colour to the proceedings without stealing the limelight.
Avant-Garde Youth Company launched proceedings in the theatre itself with their piece Beatific Vision, first seen at ReFresh earlier this year. Tony Adigun’s inventive combinations of contemporary and street styles in a darkly atmospheric piece about ritual and control have if anything improved over time – the dancers are tighter and cleaner, the dynamics more precise, the characters more visible. Hours of rehearsal have evidently gone into perfecting the unison sequences, and the discipline of these performers should be an inspiration to young dancers everywhere.

New Movement Collective also brought us a revival – an extract from Jonathan Goddard ‘s improvised group piece 079411 611971 first seen in October. As at its premiere, the work is directed by the audience with telephoned instructions chosen using a Dance Spinner. The audience at Fresh seemed a little more shy about telephoning the dancers, but there were still definitely instructions registering on stage – Pieter Symonds coiling about herself when requested to “twist”, and Malgorzata Dzierzon melting to the floor in response to “down”. The piece works well in extract length, and gives an intriguing insight into studio working practices.

Maya Cornely of London Youth Circus follows with Unfold, a beautiful solo on static trapeze. The four-minute piece is inspired by the folding and unfolding of paper as a metaphor for life choices (rip it up and start again, perhaps?); performed to a gentle double-bass score by John Zorn, the work has a lovely languorous quality. Cornely is a skilled performer with abdominal control that many would kill for, but her trapeze choreography is also beautifully expressive, riding the music with languid arm details and gentle rocks as well as dazzling balances and hangs.

Shoreditch Youth Dance Company have had a busy year, performing on the Jam Free tour as well as hosting their own evening of dance at Rich Mix. SUPER! finds the company in Marvel comic mode, playing with ideas about superpowers and dual identities. Dancers at times seem to have magnetic control over their partners, drawing them limb-by-limb from across the stage; there’s pow-blam contact work , moments of flight and time-freezing aplenty. SUPER! isn’t all primary-coloured fantasy however; the piece has a dark and often subdued edge, suggesting that it’s not always super being a hero.

Metamotion, the London performance company of Dance United’s academy for young offenders, follows with haunting, reflective piece for nine dancers. Echo of AngelS uses flight as a metaphor for surviving and transcending disaster, melding soaring arabesques with stylised wing gestures and supple lifts. Darren Ellis’s choreography for the company is readable and engaging, and the company boasts some able performers.

Andrew Bennet, a third year at London Contemporary Dance School, has created a solo on fellow LCDS student Parsifal Hurst. Jessica narrates a sweet story of teenage life and first love based on a text by the spoken word artist Polarbear. Bennet uses a jukebox selection of singalong tunes to evoke a nostalgic air without overdoing the schmaltz; Hurst is an appealing performer, bringing energy and humour to confessional material.

Luca Silvestri’s acclaimed show for Protein Dance, LOL (lots of love) has given birth to a youth version made for The Place’s in-house youth company Shift. XOXO explores the themes of online connections and their effect on our IRL lives, setting movement phrases to narrated status updates and sounds of keyboard tapping. XOXO is witty and inventive, and its cast of 25 meet the movement and character challenges with great gusto. The theme itself is starting to lose a little freshness, however – even my late-adopting father has discovered and become bored with Facebook. If even retired technophobes have abandoned social networking, its topicality for young people must surely be in question.

Hofesh Shechter Company bring the programme to arousing finish with a ten-minute extract from the popular Political Mother. A dozen super-fit dancers pound the stage in a rough-and-ready variant of Israeli folkdance performed to Shechter’s own raucous score. Hands lift to the sky and shake and heads rattle in a carefull-choreographed but exuberant party of a closer. It’s clear from the rapturous reception that Shechter’s company is an inspiration for many in the audience.

It’s great to see links being made between recreational programmes, vocational training centres and youth groups connected to touring companies, illustrating the progressions that can be made with talent and hard work. Fresh continues to be an outstanding addition to the youth dance calendar, demonstrating that many of London’s youth dance companies can hold their own on a stage shared with touring professionals, and revealing that there’s a wealth of creativity and commitment in the sector.

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