United Kingdom Richter, In-Nocentes: National Youth Dance Company, Sadler’s Wells, London, 7.4.2016. (J.O’D)
Monique Ademilola, Jasmine Bayes, Tomas Brennan, Jamie Buchanan, Arthur Clayton, Isis Clunie, Olivia Doyle, Lucia Fortune-Ely, Christian Griffin, Bar Groisman, Rachael Harrison, Alex Henderson, Amie Hibbert, Christopher Hicks, Tommy Hodgkins, Noga Inspector, Taitlyn Jaiyeola, Kaylee Jaiyeola, Ethan Joseph, Niamh Keeling, Rose Lewis, Blue Makwana, Dominic MacAinsh, Iona McGurie, Kennedy Muntanga, Daniel Nattrass, Jessica Nixon, Jasmine Norton, Ethan Nott, Chris Pilbeam, David Prempeh, Jackson Shallcross-Platt, Kia Skilbeck, Ben Todd-Jones, Tre Usoro-Williams, Chad Wakefield, Molly Walker, John-William Watson, George Williams, Hallam Wood
Musicians: Southbank Sinfonia
NYDC Guest Artistic Director & Choreographer: Michael Keegan-Dolan
Composer: Max Richter
Conductor: Sian Edwards
Designer: Laura Hopkins
Lighting Designer: Peter Harrison
As the house lights go down, a screen descends at the front of the stage. A short film is projected in which some of the fifteen-to-nineteen-year-old dancers from this year’s cohort of the National Youth Dance Company answer the question: ‘What makes a dancer?’ Close-ups of their brightly-lit, smiling faces are intercut with footage of the company in the studio.
When the film ends, the screen slides up. Sitting in shadow behind it, on chairs arranged to make three sides of a rectangle, are the dancers – all forty of them. Backs very straight, hands resting on their knees, bare feet firmly planted on the floor, they neither move nor smile. They simply look at the audience in silence.
In-Nocentes, the work that Guest Artistic Director and Choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan has created from improvisations, celebrates the ‘innocent, natural and instinctive way in which young people can move, dance and behave’. Its performers never look more strikingly youthful than when they sit immobile at the start of the piece, facing the audience in vulnerability or judgement. Once they begin to move, Keegan-Dolan interweaves solo and ensemble work with such skill that it is difficult not to think of them as fully trained professionals.
The ten or so really outstanding dancers have the chance to show they are outstanding. The others provide a solid background. The piece is similar in lots of ways to The Rite of Spring, the work that Keegan-Dolan’s own company (Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre) performed at Sadler’s Wells in 2013 and 2014. Spring is there in the music, Max Richter’s ‘re-composition’ of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons; summer, autumn and winter have their rites, too. The costumes reflect all the colours of the passing year.
To the choreographer’s familiar, swirling movement from the waist, with the plié in second position as a frequent basis, the dancers add the twerking, vogueing, street and breakdance movement of their varied choreographic backgrounds. Yet they never look as if they are doing something just because they can. They respond, as young people, to the rhythms of the music that is being played by Southbank Sinfonia on a raised and screened platform at the back of the stage.
In the film at the start, Michael Keegan-Dolan talks of making ‘tiny movements resonate’. As well as the young man whose circular run is punctuated by backwards somersaults in the air, In-Nocentes has room for the young woman who performs a dance with her arms and hands while standing at the front of the stage. The other dancers watch this intimate solo from their chairs. One watches from a seated position on the floor, his back to the audience.
Richter’s re-composition becomes wearisome as it progresses, but the dancers remain fresh. Given their youth, they might, like Jane Austen’s Fanny Price at the ball in her honour in Mansfield Park, have had ‘no awkwardnesses that were not as good as graces’. But these dancers have no awkwardnesses at all. Or if they have, Michael Keegan-Dolan arranges it so that their awkwardnesses don’t show.
The National Youth Dance Company tours the country in June and July. For more information visit: http://www.sadlerswells.com/.