Dance: Sampled – The Lowry

On for just two nights at The Lowry, Dance: Sampled is a product of The Movement, a project originated in Sadler’s Wells which aims to make dance more accessible. The approach caters to modern day audiences by presenting dance in a format that requires less commitment than a full-length work.

As is proudly declared in the free programmes, Dance:Sampled is a showcase of multiple styles, designed to both attract new audiences to dance at The Lowry and to demonstrate the appeal of a wide variety of dance forms. It’s a cleverly packaged selection box that includes flamenco, breaking, ballet, contemporary and tango, providing tasters of full works to come later in the season.

Interestingly, there is something surprising and unconventional about each piece. It’s as if the featured companies and choreographers set out to break any preconceived ideas audiences might have had about a particular genre—and with dance ever-prevalent in reality TV and film, those ideas can be very fixed.

Opening the show is British flamenco company dotdotdot, whose stripped back style—no frilly skirts or castanets here—marries the clapping, stamping, vocals and guitar of traditional flamenco with spoken word. These complex rhythms layer and intertwine in energetic bursts, and the use of fans as additional percussion is particularly clever.

Representing the ballet world in this showcase is Northern Ballet, who perform twice. The extract from Casanova—the first of three works to be premièred by the company this year—sees the 18th century lothario dance an athletic, passionate duet with his lover. Ballerina Dreda Blow’s feet barely touch the ground, the lift-heavy choreography strongly reminiscent of Kenneth MacMillan’s style.

The second piece, specially created for Dance: Sampled, depicts a power struggle within an all-female cast, but it’s the unusual motown and jazz soundtrack that gives Paradis its dark, glamorous edge.

Contemporary is a broad category, as demonstrated by the variety of works with that label. BBC Young Dancer champion Connor Scott performs a quirky solo to jazz with breathtaking effortlessness and elasticity. Two representatives of Acosta Danza perform Faun, a new take on Nijinsky’s legendary ballet—Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s primal, gymnastic choreography sees the dancers fold and unfold across the space like human slinkies.

The extract from Ninth Life, a re-examination of classical ballet La Bayadère, is a profoundly uncomfortable watch. The temple dancer (bayadère) is stared at, touched and then dragged about the stage by the ensemble, before the female dancers are posed like mannequins and forced to imitate her movements. This dehumanising treatment is reflected in the chilling voice-over, which describes a bayadère from the perspective of a 19th century writer as an exotic, “alien” creature.

Two Argentine tango performances by duo Claudio Gonzalez and Julia Hiriart Urruty bookend the interval. While the second is a more conventional display of sharp footwork and dramatic lifts, the first is a comedy routine with both dancers in fat suits. Watching their characters struggle to keep up with the changes in tempo is entertaining, but wears a little thin after a few minutes.

Ending the showcase with Dutch break group The Ruggeds is a strategic move. Adrenaline is a crowd-pleasing blend of acrobatic tricks and speedy footwork, contrasting bursts of movement with sudden stillness. It’s playful too, as the crew send up the typical macho swagger of hiphop and at one point use Pilates balls to pull off their moves. They are by far the most popular act of the night, and I really enjoyed getting a taste of a genre that’s unfamiliar to me. That’s what Dance: Sampled is all about, after all.

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