Unknown Pleasures at Sadler’s Wells
Debuting in London, Unknown Pleasures is a cryptic, intense and provocative hour and 20 minutes of cutting-edge contemporary dance.
Formed of five distinctive pieces executed by French company Ballet de Lorraine, the performance purposely leaves its creators unnamed, carrying the slogan: “No names, no fame: anonymous dance.” All we know of their choreographers are their sex: four women and one man, their age: 30 to 70, and that they are a mix of big names and newcomers, local and international. Without a choreographical attribution to shape expectations, the audience is unmoored but liberated to enjoy and interpret the programme free from preconceptions or judgement, and the artists given a carte blanche to play with.
Each piece is distinctive, a separate but adjacent part of the collective whole. They are not stories; they persistently resist narrative, the thread running through them centring on the interaction of the dancers. Far more concerned with evocation than storytelling – feelings, relationships, vulnerability and power, intensity and humour – the pieces play with choreographic structures and use, then subvert, technique. The opening dance feels apocalyptic. Hypnotically turning to a repetitious beat, when the troupe breaks out of circle formation the audience can read the lettered T-shirts spelling: “The world is burning but I keep on turning.” Another number shows various couples whose intense interactions are marked by nimble floorwork and innovative partner constructions. The costumes set the various shifts in tone and style, ranging from casual white trainers and T-shirts to more traditional mustard leotards, and ending with topless men and women in slick black in a sexually charged final number.
The performance as a whole is an exercise in contrast: loud shouts and silence, stillness and furious movement, beautiful posture as others are fragmented and distant, or they push and pull, moving over and under one another. As is the preserve of contemporary dance, the performance challenges and surprises as well as delights.
Unknown Pleasures certainly explores the unknown, and its pleasures, highlighting that in the end, naming artists and labelling styles is often the least interesting way to enjoy dance shows. By judging work on its quality and leaving behind preconceptions the audience can be open to what the artist has to say.
Photo: Arno Paul
Unknown Pleasures was at Sadler’s Wells on 7th and 8th October, for further information or to book visit here. For further information about the Dance Umbrella Festival, which runs 7th-22nd October, visit here.
Watch the trailer for Unknown Pleasures here: