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Verve 12

by David Mead

June 1, 2012 -- The Place, London, UK

In recent years the programmes presented by Verve, the graduate performance company of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, have tended to outshine those of similar groups. The dancers of Verve 12 are certainly talented and athletic. They not only bring power and energy to their performance but can dance as one when they have to. You really couldn’t separate them during unison sections, something many student and postgraduate groups seem to find near impossible. This year’s choreographies, though, were a bit more hit and miss.

Best of the four pieces in the first half was undoubtedly “Dynamo”, made by Lea Anderson of The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs fame. It opens relatively slowly as nine ladies, bright-eyed and in 1950s dresses, enter one by one. Moving around the stage, they take turns to freeze in classic shop mannequin positions. The movement is quite mechanical, even jarring. Things soon warm up, though, and a sequence in which they take turns to be shifted into position by their partners, the pairings constantly changing, was brilliantly conceived and wonderfully executed with great split second timing.

Elsewhere, “Let Go” by Milan Kozánek opened interestingly with six dancers shifting around the stage on all fours like reptiles, the sharp angular joints in their limbs contrasting with beautifully sinuous torsos. As soon as they stood up, though, it all rather lost its way. Later sections involved the dancers holding stones, and although I could see this added weight to the arms, it added little to the dance.

According to the programme, “For Dear Life” by Jordan Massarella, was based on the idea that if you hope for something enough, or do the right thing, a seemingly unavoidable event can be averted; and that sadness is sometimes the key to happiness. I didn’t get that, although there was a sense of longing in much of the dance, particularly in the way the dancers constantly seemed to be looking out into space at something, or perhaps someone, only they could see.

Much more effective was James Cousins’ powerful and taut “Dark in the Afternoon”. Although a duet, the Marine Besnard and Eshe Blake-Bandele only came together occasionally, and then mostly just for a few seconds. The frequently disjointed dance suggested attempts at communication but for the most part each seemed more preoccupied with what she alone was doing.

This year’s programme was rounded off by a restaging of Akram Khan’s 2010 hit,“Vertical Road”, which takes inspiration from Sufi tradition and Persian poet and philosopher. Needless to say, it’s packed with mystical elements. It’s one of Khan’s best pieces, with brilliant lighting and a cracking, haunting score by Nitin Sawhney. The dancers really got to the heart of the piece. Even in this shortened version, it was riveting stuff that left a deep impression.

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