REVIEW: Sadler’s Wells Sampled

Geometrie Variable. Photo by Paul Hampartsoumian

The great thing about Sadler’s Wells Sampled is the diverse dance, artists and companies showcasing unexpected artforms, unknown companies and new work. 

Sampled also sees Sadler’s Wells Theatre itself physically transformed as seats are removed created a mosh pit like space where a younger audience is crammed in, getting right up close to the performers on stage. There was a real electric buzz in the auditorium for the forthcoming programme of leading edge hip-hop, AI choreography, contemporary, ballet, classical Indian, circus, juggling and sizzling tango. 

Before each artist came on stage, we were shown a video interview and example of the show, which made the experience of their performance and the work richer. What was interesting was how the audience reacted to each performance. You may think that a solo female dancer performing a 3000 year old inspired Indian classical piece may not be everyone’s taste, but my goodness BBC Young Dancer Shree Savani was showed equal love for her commanding performance of Devi, to that of BBC Young Dancer Max Revell with his dance theatre, hip hop, mime inspired performance of Unstrung, along with the tango duo Ezequiel Lopez and Camila Alegre who also received rapturous applause that they definitely deserved for their hot hot hot performance of A Selection of tangos.

BLKDOG. Photo by Camilla Greenwell
BLKDOG. Photo by Camilla Greenwell

My favourite of the night was Far From The Norm, Botis Seva’s BLKDOG. This exceptional piece opened with 6 dancers sitting on the ground, hunched over, their backs to us as soft yellow dust like mist filled the dark stage. As the rumbling bass kicked in, the dancers attempt to rise only to fall dramatically and heavily bringing an immediate sense of desolate, hopefulness and foreboding. Inspired by the first year of Seva’s fatherhood, he filled the movements with expressive and dynamic hip hop body locking and low growling, crawling movements that had an underlining sense of frustration and anger, that came out in the moments when the partners came together lovingly, and violently moving and rolling bound in their shared experience and emotions. Visually dark with spotlight hip hop explosions, and a brooding soundscape created an intense and absorbing scene that deeply felt raw and personal.

Company Wayne McGregor’s Living Archive was created in collaboration with Google and used artificial intelligence to curate McGregor’s entire body of work and then it used this information to create its own AI choreography. As incredible concept that saw the sublime dancers performing bursts of micro codes of contemporary and classical movement to vocal music and against a digitised backdrop of code and evolving shapes. This work poses an interesting question about the future of dance, about who or what can create dance, about the horizons that face this art and artists. This is a debate that I’d very much enjoy.

(LA)HORDE - TO DA BONE © Tom de Peyret 2017
(LA)HORDE – TO DA BONE © Tom de Peyret 2017

It was great to see (LA)HordeTo Da Bone back on Sadler’s stage with their Belgium styled leading edge hip hop that sees 11 dancers repetitively performing the same high octane steps to absolutely silence, except for the beat their jumps created and the sounds of the breath. Another crowd pleaser. 

And while it’s not usual to see circus in this theatre, the dance inspired, comic musical juggling from Machine de Cirque made the crowd roar with their rock concert take on a throwing bowling pins and themselves into the sky as they tumbling off a seesaw to impressive and scary heights. Machine de Cirque injected fun and humour that ricocheted across the crowd. 

Geometrie Variable. Photo by Paul Hampartsoumian
Geometrie Variable. Photo by Paul Hampartsoumian

The show rounded off with an unusual form of hip hop dance movement from Géométrie VariableLabora that focused on creating optical illusions and shapes primarily using their arms. Dressed in black with their forearms bared, they moved their muscly arms, hands and bodies to form squares and ripples of movement that became more effective the more intensely you watch. Again the audience was impressed and they cleared loved the entire range of art and artists that hit the stage.

It was interesting that this ‘annual festival celebrates dance in all its form from artists from across the globe’, but the majority of the works, companies and the performers were male. 

Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 31 January 2020.