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Sadler’s Wells Sampled 2008

Posted on January 26, 2008

“Only £5? Seriously?” Hip hop artist Jonzi D was compering Sadler’s Wells Sampled, but was still surprised when the audience told him how cheap their tickets had been. Back for a second year, Sampled is encouraging audiences to give dance a whirl: low prices, plenty of different styles on offer, a range of classes and events around the performances. The theatre was full and happy.

It’s an evening of sneak previews: if you enjoyed María Pagés, the programme suggests, do come back for the Flamenco Festival. The programme is a nice balance of styles, mixing star soloists and group dances. Pagés, who opened the evening, danced a sculptural solo to words by Portuguese author José Saramago, her arms curving through bold swoops. A second solo, with brilliant stamping footwork, was even better, Pagés and her fine musicians building up complex rhythms.

The Sampled programme was performed twice, with one change to the line-up. On Sunday, contemporary dance was represented by Hofesh Shechter. On Saturday, I saw Jasmin Vardimon Company in Yesterday. This work in progress, not yet completed, starts with a woman fishing, holding her rod out over the heads of the audience. There’s a tiny camera at the end of the rod, projecting pictures of spectators onto the backdrop. A man shouts contradictory slogans, berating nationalism while waving a flag. Some of the material is unfocused, but it’s an energetic, forceful performance.

In Dream of Gluby, French hip hop virtuoso Salah appears as a cartoon character, presented through high-pitched vocal tricks and a spectacular range of hip hop styles. He moves in a toddling walk that can slide into robotic isolations or sinuous lines. Most of those moves have sound effects, squeaky-toy noises timed exactly to the movement. He’s a natural crowd-pleaser, flirting gently with his audience, and a remarkable mover. When he demonstrates four elaborate phrases, you expect him to put them together in a sequence – but then he does all four at once, one arm popping as the other ripples, twisting and torso shimmying. His sheer versatility becomes funny.

The second half of the evening was weaker. With all its invention, Christopher Wheeldon’s Prokofiev pas de deux lacks individuality. Alina Cojocaru and Nehemiah Kish float over the music, slipping in and out of complex lifts, but the lyricism is bland.

Hip hop troupe Blue Boy Ent. is a large company of polished hip hop performers. Yet this extract from their reworking of the Pied Piper story is disappointing: they move well, but the material is overlong, too full of pop video clichés.

The evening ended with the Ballet Boyz. Yumba vs. Nonino, the tango choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, has become their gala party piece. Timing and footwork have become sharper, and funnier, since the first performance: it now makes a good finale for this selection box of dance.

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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