Once a year Sadler’s Wells removes the seats from the stalls area and throws an amazing dance party called Sampled. It is an evening of back to back short performances programmed for every taste. This year it ranges from the heart-stopping, mind-altering musicality and athletic hip hop of Yeah Yellow, to Jesús Carmona’s flamenco, to Zenaida Yanovsky’s interpretation of Fokine’s classical ballet, “The Dying Swan”.
Long before the curtain goes up, the show has already begun. Get there early. The Guardian newspaper has sponsored a short virtual reality foyer gig, more fun than substance. Elsewhere, spectators become performers, if they fancy, and don free carnival head-dresses, boas and glitz, to shimmy to the blare of the band. Inside the auditorium, in the stalls, there’s room to stretch out on the floor, ready for the nine performances of the main event.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s pas de deux from Alexander Whiteley’s “Kin.” is an exquisite example of where classical ballet has got to today. Despite the black costumes against the black backdrop, a barely lit floor and general dim lighting (I thought this went out of fashion five years ago), one can see quite a lot.
Unfortunately this is not the case with the over-long anomaly from NDT2 that opens the London programme. This piece can’t generate useful comment because it is set against a black backdrop with lighting so dim that, aside from two fragments, it is almost invisible. And the much touted “rattling pants” worn by the dancers are inaudible or indistinguishable from the sound-track. What? Happily, it seems that the Lowry tour will rescue the Salford audience from this mind-fogging prelude to an evening that afterwards takes off with a vengeance.
There is the stunning crew of Yeah Yellow, the hip hop show-stealers who turn you upside down and make your heart race just by looking at them.
Aside from these seasoned professionals, there are three strikingly fresh performers who in just a few minutes raise the spirit aloft. They are all recent winners of the BBC’s Young Dancer of the Year. Hip hop and street dance performers Harry Barnes and Jodelle Douglas are a sharp, meticulously formed delight with their unaffected and witty “Mass Effect”.
Above all, there is the quiet luminary of Sampled 2018, Nafisah Baba, the overall BBC Young Dancer award winner last year. She is a product of Jodie Blemings’ nurturing company, Chrysalis. “Inescapable”, both choreographed and performed by Baba, is a work providing a breath of much-needed fresh air: unpretentious, deep, emotionally moving, perfectly executed. Nafisah Baba is a serious, new kind of star.