The weather gods smiled on Canary Wharf this weekend for the Docklands debut of the Big Dance youth dance day as part of Greenwich and Docklands International Festival 2013. Previously held at The Scoop, City Hall as a London Youth Dance initiative, the youth dance day featured for the first time on Saturday in Dancing City as part of the wider GDIF festival of outdoor performing arts.

Twenty youth dance companies featuring performers aged 5 to 21 years old and working in diverse styles including ballet, contemporary dance, Afro-contemporary, jazz, hip hop and classical Indian dance took to the stage immediately in front of Canary Wharf tube station. The day was hosted by the effervescent Katie P, who also led a workshop teaching the Big Dance Pledge dance choreographed this year by English National Ballet artists Laura Harvey and Jenna Lee.

The aim of this year’s event was very much to celebrate the wide array of dance styles taking place in the capital and bring youth dance to a wider audience of festival attendees and passers-by. As well as being thrilled to perform to a public audience, many of the young dancers enjoyed the opportunity to watch other groups – “It’s nice to see something different from us – other types of dance,” says Emily from Copthall School in Barnet, performing in classmate Lauren’s GCSE dance choreography. Lauren agrees: “It was really fun, a really nice atmosphere, nice seeing people!”

A number of the young people performing at this year’s event represented youth groups connected to professional touring dance companies, including Impact Dance’s Fully Functioning Individuals, State of Emergency’s Re-position, and Myself dance company’s youth group Me.I, directed by choreographer Khloe Dean. “Our piece was originally created to celebrate International Women’s Week,” explains company member Saskia, “so it has a lot of songs from current female MCs and it’s about representing female power in terms of MCs.”

Like many of the dancers present on Saturday Saskia hopes to continue dancing and is looking forward to training at an institution such as Trinity Laban or London Contemporary Dance School, both of which were represented on stage. A group from The Place Centre for Advanced Training presented a piece created over just three days at their recent intensive training week, looking at connections and relationships entitled Em Nós, Nós Confio (“in us we trust”); while theTrinity Laban Youth Dance Company paired up with integrated youth company Cando2 to create The Butterfly Effect.

“Trinity Laban and Candoco now have a partnership,” explains Laban Youth Company directorStella Howard, “and we thought what a lovely way to start it would be to bring the two youth companies together.” The dancers worked together for term with Stella and Cando2 directorSarah Blanc to create material devised from a series of creative tasks. “Once the kids came together, they got on so well and worked so well creatively together. It was a real pleasure to see two groups of teenagers come together, work together and create material.”

Some of the youngest performers came from Sanskriti Limited, a school teaching the classical South Indian dance style of Bharatanatyam. Despite the public setting and a large audience, the tiny dancers weren’t in the least bit daunted and presented two traditional pieces, one seeking the blessing of Lord Ganesh and the other portraying the triumph of good over evil.

“It’s about coming together and celebrating dance,” says host Katie P, a passionate advocate of youth dance and a regular fixture at previous London Youth Dance days. “Youth dance is so important – it’s basically the future, so we need to inspire, get these young people involved. Having a platform for it shows that dance really is for everyone, and you can start at any age!”

Report & video: Lise Smith

Big Dance youth day, as part of Dancing City, Canary Wharf, Greenwich & Docklands International Festival.

Photos: Gigi Giannella
Originally published at www.londondance.com

Sound and Fury: Hofesh Shechter Political Mother, The Choreographer’s Cut

Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter arrived in London a decade ago to play drums in a rock band. That particular aspiration didn’t work out for him; instead, the young dancemaker lit up the 2004 Place Prize finals, launching a career that saw him propelled from the small-scale circuit to the main house at Sadler’s within months. Shechter’s love of rock music in general, and of drumming in particular, is an inspiration writ large on the face of his 2010 full-length work, Political Mother, revived in 2011 as an expanded “choreographer’s cut” and now closing this year’s Sampled festival.

The Sampled setting – with the stalls seats removed so that the front half of the audience is standing, like a rock concert audience in a mosh pit – was first devised for the 2011 revival and suits the work perfectly. The atmosphere at Sadler’s Wells is electric as the curtain goes up (late, I privately suspect to allow somebody backstage to check  out the Wimbledon quarter-final results). What follows is a series of intriguing images and a wall of noise so loud at points that the venue has to carry a decibel warning.

We open with a single figure, clad in the style of a Japanese samurai, committing bloody suicide by forcing a sword through his own body.  A string octet (large ensembles are a recurring theme of the work) plays a stirring, mournful Hebraic folk melody, which is then supplemented by the metallic thrash of four rock guitarists and no fewer than seven drums. This combination summarises the whole work: elements that are a little bit folky, combined with the heft and physicality of raw, Northern European hard rock.

Shechter’s physical language draws heavily on Israeli folk dance, more so in this piece than in previous stage outings. There are repeated shapes and motifs: a kind of shuffling hop-step with the knee bent high and the shoulders hunched low; arms raised wide in supplication; hands twirling overhead. These repeating shapes are then made to read, through a series of evolving costume and lighting choices, in a variety of ways. The hands overhead are shown in primary-coloured unison sections to signal community and hope; in dull grey prison fatigues they look more like despair and anguish; frozen next to a man pointing a shotgun, they are a clear gesture of surrender.

The step-hops likewise sometimes look joyful and exuberant and at other times bound and weary. Hands open to the heavens, or towards the guttural singer rocking a microphone on the upper deck of the stage; circles, squares and travelling lines form and dissolve on stage. The sixteen dancers of Shechter’s company must have the stamina of Olympic athletes; 75 minutes of relentless skipping would take it out of anyone, but there’s no sign of fatigue on the cast by the end of the piece as they gamely retrograde the entire performance like a video on rewind. That moment, by the way, is worth the price of admission alone.

Political Mother revels in a very particular kind of heavy energy, and there’s an excitement to the work borne not only of its pulsing soundtrack but of its specific physicality, exhilarating in its rough-hewn rawness. Shechter is clearly pushing for a relentless aesthetic, with his powerful soundtrack, sudden changes of scene and replicated gestures. If there’s one criticism to be levelled at the work, it’s that this unrelenting approach can eventually start to weigh a bit heavy on the audience; at 30 minutes in length, this might have been quite the most exciting thing on stage this year. At 75 minutes, the power of the movement starts to wane; there’s plenty of sound and fury on the stage, but the signification blurs.

Still, with its thrilling, threatening and ultimately uplifting mood and its rock-gig presentation, Political Mother makes a wholly appropriate closer for Sadler’s audience-grabbing Sampled season.

Originally published at dancetabs.com