Review: National Youth Dance Company - Vertical Road / The Rashomon Effect - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 16 April 2014
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Tuesday 29 April 2014

NYDC 'Vertical Road' Photo: John Ross

Guest Artistic Director Akram Khan has really put the members of the National Youth Dance Company through their paces, or rather his paces. The NYDC affords a select group of dancers between the ages of 16 and 19 the opportunity to create and perform the work of high flying professional artists like Khan (and last year Jasmin Vardimon), under these luminaries’ direct tutelage. The more experienced second year group tackled a piece ( Vertical Road, 2010) from his back catalogue while the first-years created a new work, The Rashomon Effect , directed by him but choreographed by Andrej Petrovic.

A member of Khan’s company, Petrovic was working squarely within his director’s idiom, as both works were clearly authored by Khan, with regard to vision as well as choreographic substance. The Rashomon Effect saw undulating and linked biomorphic masses of bodies from which soloists emerged to be re-consumed shortly thereafter; like drops from the ocean flying out and wobbling ambivalently in space, before being incorporated back into the swirling whole. The long-bodied and elastic Arran Green radiated a particular presence as he whipped through sequences set apart but in dialogue with the group, only to eventually be swallowed up again as though his efforts at individuality were in vain. At one point Heather Birley appears as another of these solitary figures, lengthening out into the space away from the amorphous horde she either leads or is struggling to escape; she’s then caught and pulled back in by her flowing hair.

Dance has a curious relationship with the uneasy dialectic of the individual and the group. There are stars and auteur directors and choreographers, but much of the training for the actual practice of dance as an art form is learned in ‘class’, produced by ‘companies’, all with group dynamics as a definitional element. Khan’s insistence that Vertical Road be reproduced here at its original professional level, rather than being modified to suit student dancers, was clearly a trial by fire in the power and precision it takes to actually be a company, to function as one organism. The NYDC dancers appeared before a pulsing membrane, inhabiting the womb-like scenography of Vertical Road with boldness apropos the enthusiasm of youth, although some of them appeared to be working at the outside edge of their technical ability. The effort and intensity of this was palpable and thrilling however, even when there were some minor flubs. Evonee Bentley-Holder stood way out here. In several breakout solos she hammered and beat her body’s own style into the movement, adding muscle and grit to the lyrical but earthbound sweeps and flows of Khan’s vocabulary.

Milling this company of young dancers through the rigorous processes and philosophies of mature, visionary practitioners may produce technically uneven results, but watching the frisson of young artists physically grappling with and reaching for material pitched at the next tier of their development is always going to be exciting.

NYDC will be performing this programme in venues across the UK between now and the end of July. Dates & venues:

Photos: John Ross

Jeffrey Gordon Baker is a transplanted New Yorker living in London; an artist and writer who has studied art, performance and aesthetics at New York University, Central St Martins and Birkbeck College.

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