Review: Home Turf - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 September 2016
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 26 September 2016

'Home Turf' participants.  Photo: Tony Nandi

Although Home Turf is lauded for its ability to bring non-dancers alongside professionals on- stage at Sadler’s Wells, the production is so imaginatively choreographed and professionally performed by all of its 93 cast members that we don’t notice the difference. It’s a great example of a work that focuses on what its participants have to offer and skilfully harnesses their enthusiasm and dedication.

Under Jane Hackett’s directorship and choreographic input from eight stellar choreographers, not to mention a fruitful collaboration with West Ham United Foundation, Home Turf puts the agonies and ecstasies of football into a riveting dance context, conveying the thrilling, moving and physical highs, and some lows, of football culture. Whether you love or hate ‘the beautiful game’, there is something in Home Turf for everyone – girls and women co-exist in this football utopia – and I would much rather experience it here than watch an actual match! With a cast which includes members of the Sadler’s Wells based Company of Elders, the National Youth Dance Company and organisations local to the theatre, such as the Islington Centre for Refugees and Migrants and Corali Dance Company, this multi-generational show embraces diversity in all its forms.

The cast is divided into different groups – fans, players, rival teams, managers, all of whom have a distinct choreographic identity: the punchy hip-hop styles of Lee Griffiths or Bismark Anobah, which suggest tension between rival fans, or the acrobatic lifts and linear limb extensions of Anna Nowak and J*asmine Wilson* displaying the agility in ‘a header’ or passing the ball to a partner; or the gestural dance-theatre of Michela Meazza and Pascal Merighi, which transports us on a roller-coaster ride of fans’ emotions. Choreography is slick and well-rehearsed, production values are strong with sharp cues and smooth transitions, costumes by Abigail Hammond are simple but inventive (plastic bags double as football shirts and floaty footballs), and music by Murray Gold up-beat and vibey. Lighting echoes the powerful illumination of football pitches and extracts of film (by Lyndsey Winship and David Kalpowitz) share some behind the scenes snippets of the rehearsal process, bringing our attention to how important the process has been.

Composer Murray Gold’s music is a collage of street-dance music and ambient cut through with recordings of football crowd noises and individual anecdotes, from the participant themselves, which brings personal significance and atmosphere to the performance.

Choreographers draw on the team work of football, the partnering, fancy footwork and the rigorous training. Solos and duets bring moments of suspense and intensity, ensemble sections are comical and endearing and possibly some of the most important in the show: the euphoric moments of triumph (hands reaching into the air and cheers), the hugging between players and fans, the community experience and feeling united as a crowd. Home Turf might depict an idealised view of football but it is certainly one to strive for and has made many people happy!

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider.

Photo: Tony Nandi

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