Review: National Youth Dance Company - Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Frame[d] - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 10 April 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 20 April 2015

National Youth Dance Company in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's 'Frame[d]. Photo: Ambra Vernuccio

Are the graduates from our vocational contemporary dance schools good enough to “cut the mustard” in the leading UK-based dance companies? That was the question posed on the day prior to this performance by the National Youth Dance Company when a press release from three choreographers suggested that the graduates from UK schools were being out-performed by those from overseas when it came to winning jobs. The debate has continued over the past week with some choreographers (notably Matthew Bourne) speaking up in support of the performance quality of graduates coming out of the schools.

Irrespective of where anyone stands on this particular point, this performance by the NYDC proved conclusively that the quality of young English-based dancers in that immediate pre-vocational bracket is anything but lacking. This was an extraordinary hour of dance that was professional in every sense other than the performers being paid.

Credit must go to Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (recently appointed to the “poisoned-chalice” job of directing the Royal Flanders Ballet) for apparently making little allowance for youth. Frame[d] is his new work, carved out of the reimagined interpretation of memorable moments from his back catalogue, with extracts from Babel, TeZukA, Puz/zle and Loin. It was anything but an easy option for this multi-talented ensemble of 38 young dancers, aged between 16 and 19.

Antony Gormley also reimagined the framed structures that give both context and title to the piece. These were originally used in Babel but have been scaled down to fit into the various touring venues for the NYDC in 2015, although the central principle that each frame contains exactly the same internal volume still applies. Some adept trickery is required in the manipulation of the frames, which the young performers managed without a hitch: jobs in construction or engineering clearly await any of them unable or unwilling to make a career in dance!

Working around the geographical constraints of having young people from as far afield as Cornwall, Norwich and Northumberland and the time constraints of fitting into school and college timetables meant that the piece had to be taught and rehearsed in super-quick mode; but, it is clear that they absorbed it all completely. Moving so many dancers around a cluttered Sadler’s Wells stage without incident should have been far more difficult than it looked; they criss-crossed the stage, avoiding each other without flinching. There were times when it looked like the human equivalent of a motor-cycle or Red Arrows display team. Unsurprisingly – with such a large cast – the choreography was exceptionally fluid, and most impressive, when they moved as a single organism.

Although all these young people were in a pre-vocational phase, one of the dancers, Annie Edwards, has already built up a significant performance portfolio, not least as Fairy Gee in ZooNation’s long-running success, Into The Hoods. She always seemed to be in the centre of the action and whatever she does next, she’s already a star.

The award –winning choreographer, Michael Keegan-Dolan has been appointed as the next Guest Artistic Director for NYDC and the quest for a new intake begins next month, with Experience Workshops taking place across thirteen English venues from 23 to 31 May 2015.

I noted that 12 of this year’s cohort of young dancers came from The Place and Laban CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) schemes. Hopefully, they (and others) will go on to full-time vocational training at those institutions (or at Northern) and perhaps – just perhaps – they might then go on to work for one of the so-called “press release three” [Akram Khan Company, Hofesh Shechter Dance Company or DV8]. That would be a nice irony to bring the debate full circle!

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He is a regular contributor to Dancing Times and also writes for, and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is chairman of the dance section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK and of the National Dance Awards. Twitter: @gwdancewriter

Photos: Ambra Vernuccio

Your Comments

  1. Phaedra Petsilas 20 April 2015

    Still some of those students are from normal colleges doing a great job training young dancers for the industry. It's not always just about the top 3 in the debate...hidden gems everywhere! This show is amazing...well done to the young dancers and what an honour to work with this calibre of choreographers!

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post comments.

Sign in now

What’s On