National Youth Dance Company: Speak Volumes at Sadler’s Wells
“Simon says if you can’t handle your jail cell how will you handle your casket?!” a girl screams at the front of the line. There are two rows of teenagers on either side of four dancers swinging, reaching and spinning. This “game” starts with patronising, smiling tones, but as it goes on and the voices get louder the dark overtones of control, classrooms as prisons and police brutality become more and more apparent. “Simon says if you can’t handle your classroom, how will you handle your jail cell?!”
Speak Volumes is a mixture of contemporary dance, movement, sound and spoken word, performed by young people aged 16 to 25. The performers all wear grey, prison-style clothes and the show takes place on a dark, sparse stage. Lighting is very important here: after the ominous Simon Says number, the spotlights are lined to look like jail cells, whilst at other times they are squares to give the performers equal space on the stage.
National Youth Dance Company’s production plays with how young people are perceived: from aggressive fights and Still I Rise-themed spoken word to dance numbers where the performers reach desperately for the sky – some physically limited by their bodies, others by the perceptions of contemporary society; it explores how the world sees them and how that clashes with how they see themselves. The music is a mix of deep, almost mechanical beats that demand attention. Apart from some beautiful singing, most of the music is wordless – it acts as a heartbeat to go along with the movements.
This show is incredibly powerful and emotional: the spoken word drips with descriptive, emotive language, the dance is energetic, nuanced and meaningful, and the performers’ stage presence is impressively confident. All the cast own their part of the stage, working together and sharing the limelight without one being stronger or more engaging than another.
Rehearsed over lockdown initially over Zoom, it’s amazing to see Speak Volumes come together on stage for one night. It is political and meaningful, but it also shows the joys of being able to express and be seen, emphasising how important the theatre and experiencing live art is. The energy is powerful in a way only in-person theatre can be. Hopefully this is the first of many productions of its kind that audiences can be a part of.
Photos: Ambra Vernuccio
National Youth Dance Company: Speak Volumes was at Sadler’s Wells on 24th July 2021. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.