U. Dance 2016: The Lowry

This year, The Lowry plays host to the U.Dance National Festival, a showcase for youth dance groups organised by One Dance UK. Over one weekend, 19 companies and hundreds of dancers take to the expansive Lyric Theatre stage—a space renowned for its popularity amongst professional dance organisations.

Saturday evening’s performance is the biggest, with 12 companies on show. It’s an impressively varied programme, featuring groups from all over the UK dancing in a range of styles. From traditional, intricate Indian dance form Bharatanatyam—given a contemporary twist by Kalanikethan with its rock music soundtrack—to slick street dance delivered with attitude by Impact Youth, the quality is consistently high.

Some groups have devised their pieces around particular source material. Dance2’s performance Transfigured is inspired by Kafka’s Metamorphosis—the dancers wear long coats which they shed like skins, make animal noises and scuttle about the stage as one mass of bodies to unsettling effect. Meanwhile, Sir William Borlase School, the only all-male group in the showcase, delivers a moody yet dynamic routine based on computer game Assassin’s Creed. Lancashire-based Ludus Youth Dance Company ends the show with the aptly-timed Encore—inspired by famous double acts, the performers clown expressively about the stage in mime make-up and get plenty of laughs from the audience.

Despite the huge variety, there are some common subject themes across the groups. Love and relationships are the basis of both Momentum Youth Dance’s Under My Skin and Tammy Tsang’s Coming Home. The latter is a duet built of contrasting segments—including a touching slow dance scene—which has a nice narrative arc, whilst the former is an ambitious if slightly frenetic exploration of intimacy, featuring some stunning lifts. There’s also an interesting relationship dynamic portrayed in Requiem of Youth by Youth Dance Tynedale, which sees central performers pulled between opposing forces in a poignant portrayal of early adulthood.

Privacy and personal space is also a shared theme, with the National Youth Dance Company of Scotland focussing on the way technology and the media intrudes on modern life—their performance, Maelstrom, pulses with electric energy and includes an amusing spoken section of bizarre facts from the Internet. Meanwhile, Versus Dance Company takes on the concept of the kinesphere in its sharp, almost mechanical piece To Cause To Become.

London group Shift deserves a special mention for the imaginative and entertaining Made By Hand, which features music made entirely by their own bodies. The choreography is simple but the synchronicity of the group is impressive, as is the effect of multiple rhythms that intersect and build to the piece’s climax.

U.Dance 2016 is a truly inclusive showcase—any dialogue or speech is BSL interpreted, and one of the most memorable performances of the night comes from Wheelfever Projects. Their piece features both disabled and non-disabled dancers performing subversive choreography that interacts with a film played behind the stage.

Although there is huge variety amongst the dance on show, one thing is constant across each piece: the level of talent and commitment displayed by every performer, which makes this showcase a joy to watch. No doubt many of these young dancers will return to The Lowry as professionals in years to come.

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