Dancing Nation is a three-part digital festival that promises viewers an insight – which is rare these days – into the world of UK dance. Filmed at Sadler’s Wells, this eclectic showcase features excerpts from some of the industry’s biggest choreographers as well as lesser-known, talented newcomers.
Part One of this series includes an excerpt from an early piece by renowned choreographer Matthew Bourne. Spitfire was arranged before Swan Lake, Dorian Gray and the other hits which would make the instructor famous, but it is dripping with his unique style. Performed with bare feet, the piece features intimate duets between the male performers. Containing a mix of contemporary, ballet and character acting, the performance is a gentle satire of the Danseur noble and male vanity. It’s a great start to the show due to its flexibility to suit Covid times. The piece successfully introduces new and old dance enthusiasts to one of the greats of our time.
As well as celebrating the art form in our nation, this production is also a love letter to Sadler’s Wells theatre. Breakin’ Convention’s Window Shopping takes the viewer on a journey from outside the venue (where two dancers in futuristic clothing give a wonderful performance behind the glass) through the foyer and up the stairs. All the while, the impressive troupe treats spectators to hip hop, flamenco and ballet.
Window Shopping – a joy to watch – is an overall standout. It highlights how crucial it is that live performances return as soon as possible. Anyone who has been to this theatre will feel a pang of homesickness as they see the popular venue deserted, but Dancing Nation is also designed to give hope. The audience may be at home, but the show is still going on.
Face In – performed by the Candoco Dance Company and choreographed by Yasmeen Godder – displays how much can be achieved through lighting alone. This detail transforms the stage – which is really a blank canvas – with vibrant colours, making it feel like performance art. Many of these numbers appear on the same, simple stage, but the space is transformed by each company. It magnifies how lighting and sound technicians, dancers, costume designers and more are part of this expansive organism, working together to create something beautiful.
The English National Ballet closes the first installment of this festival with an outstanding duet. Hollow presents onlookers with a couple. The female lead is depressed, and her counterpart wants to help her. However, she barely looks at him, eyes gazing forward as she reaches for something only she can see. The movements in this excerpt are effortlessly impressive, but it is the acting that really steals the show.
The amount conveyed through the performers’ faces and expressions is equally as remarkable as the dance itself. Hollow tells a clear, heart-wrenching story and demonstrates how this physical art form can equate to much more than just graceful movements. At its best, it can explain an idea better than words.
Dancing Nation may be a little long, but this festival does what the creators set out to do. It nurtures a yearning for a return to normalcy so enthusiasts can see these performers in the flesh. As hope rises distantly on the horizon, many are thinking about where we want to return. This selection of dances displays that Sadler’s Wells should be one of them.
Dancing Nation can be viewed digitally on demand on BBC iPlayer and Sadler’s Wells website from 28th January until 26th February 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.