Review: National Youth Dance Company - In-Nocentes - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 7 April 2016
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 12 April 2016

National Youth Dance Company 'In-Nocentes'. Photo: Bettina Strenske

This world premiere showcased the fourth year of the National Youth Dance Company, an ensemble and an event that possesses all manner of unusual characteristics, not least of which is the rarity of seeing a dance performance on this scale. It is certainly a luxury in contemporary dance for any choreographer to enjoy the expansive opportunities of moving forty dancers around the stage. And to this number, can be added the 22 young musicians of the South Bank Sinfonia who were arranged on a platform behind the dancers – playing Max Richter’s exciting reimagining of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – thus making this assembly of performers the kind of crowded house that is rarely, if ever, seen at Sadler’s Wells. Sadly, the reason for this must be that it is economically prohibitive for any professional company to mount a dance show of this scale at an affordable ticket price.

This year’s choreographic baton has been passed onto Michael Keegan-Dolan, formerly the founder and director of Fabulous Beast, the Irish company that folded in 2014 after Keegan-Dolan had produced many notable, spectacular escapades in dance theatre (his stunning, modern interpretation of Giselle, plus the Gaelic trilogy of James Son of James, The Bull and Rian will live long in the memory). He is now continuing his dance adventures through the more personal identity of MKD Dance.

With invaluable assistance from James O’Hara, Rachel Poirier and Emmanuel Obeya, Keegan-Dolan appears to have inspired and catalysed these young dancers’ own ideas and skills into a celebration of the unedited innocence and ebullience that exists in their instinctive movement. In-Nocentes is testament to the untainted energy and uninhibited, natural drive of youth and the choreographic team are to be congratulated for applying the softest of touches to control their output.

Each of the dancers is aged between 16 and 19 and all are, therefore, at a pre-vocational level. Many are in youth dance companies or on CAT (Centre of Advanced Training) schemes and they hail from many backgrounds, both geographically and in terms of their early dance training. We see evidence of hip hop, ballet and contemporary influences and there is a generic, collective feel for rhythm, which evolves from the outset as a strong tempo is established by flamenco-style hand percussion, using their bodies as the drums.

Every dancer has a chance to own the spotlight and it is naturally difficult to single out individuals from within this strong ensemble, although the identical Jaiyeola twins (Kaylee and Taitlyn) – both students at Lewisham College – had a distinct advantage in catching the eye. The choreographic structure established a seamless flow of danced episodes, maintaining a momentum that never let up over the course of an hour or so. There was humour, notably in a cheeky twerking solo and a hair-swinging dance for a group of the girls, as well as many opportunities to be impressed by breaking, tumbling and acrobatic skills.

While one marvels at the talents of these young people, it comes with the sad realisation that few of them will go on to work professionally. My back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate that less that 5% of last year’s graduates from the degree-level contemporary dance schools have secured paid jobs as dancers, let alone any sustainable future in the profession.

The future of the NYDC is, however, assured with the recent news of a further £450K grant for 2017, from the Government and via Arts Council England, support from both of which was underscored by the presence at this premiere of the Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, and the Chief Executive of the Arts Council, Darren Henley. This accompanied the announcement that Damien Jalet, the Belgian choreographer, is set to become the fifth guest artistic director.

According to Article 19, this funding makes NYDC the seventh highest funded dance company in England and, despite the excellence and exuberance of experiencing this premiere, I can’t help but think that it might be better all round if this money was given to help employ professional dancers rather than encourage young people to seek a vocation that currently has so few paid opportunities.

That is, however, not to take anything away from this year’s cohort of outstanding young dancers who provided a performance to savour and immense credit is due to Keegan-Dolan and his team for allowing this innocence to bloom into an entertaining and absorbing performance with minimal intervention. The NYDC tour takes place throughout England, from Newcastle to Falmouth, over June and July. It will be well worth seeing.

Photos: Bettina Strenske

NYDC tour dates & venues:

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

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