Last week Sadler’s Wells welcomed patrons to the premiere of its latest offering, The Associates, a specially curated evening featuring a collection of short pieces from three of their associate artists, Crystal Pite, Kate Prince and Hofesh Shechter.
Slowly the lights fade, the dramatic red curtain is raised, the music begins to play and I can see Alistair Spalding to my left with a small, excited smile on his face. Then the music stops, the curtain is lowered and the lights come on again. Spalding’s smile disappears. Not to worry, the lights quickly dim, the music starts once more, drawing us in, and the curtain is lifted. And then dropped. And then lifted again. And finally dropped.
The audience is cheering, Spalding is out of his seat quicker than should be possible in a crowded theatre and a voice comes over the speaker system: ‘We apologise for this Ladies and Gentlemen, we appear to be having some technical-’ There’s a moment of awkward silence and then suddenly everyone is laughing. A woman turns to her friend behind me and says ‘I didn’t realise we’d come to see a comedy!’
Technical problems aside, when the show does begin it proves to be worth waiting for. The first piece, Smile, features dancer Tommy Franzen as Charlie Chaplin. It explores the relationship between stage and private persona, with an entertaining mix of modern and Chaplin-esque dance and music genres.
The second piece, by Crystal Pite, is a duet titled A Picture of You Falling. It deals with the physical motions of day-to-day life and shows how these are repeated across cultures and generations. ‘There you are,’ says the narrator ‘and there you are again.’ It’s visually stunning and while the staging and costuming is minimal in comparison to the wealth of props used in the last piece, the dance itself is complex. The two works benefitted from being scheduled together, each offering what the other didn’t: an externalisation of the mind of one man everyone knows vs. and introspective look at what’s common amongst a group of people who nobody knows.
The third and final piece also had the most mixed response. Initially it appears to be a commentary on how our lives and actions are controlled without our knowing; as a creepily serene Siri-voice keeping telling us ‘order must be’. It then moves on to become a dialogue between said Siri- voice and the choreographer. They muse over his mid- life crisis, the beauty of innocence and his fear that the audience will discover that he cheated on his wife (not true, by the way). It culminates with the dancers lining up along the stage, completely nude, with dramatic lighting casting strange shadows on their bodies.
There’s no doubt that Sadler’s Wells is a big dog in the dance world – its reputation has been established since the eighteenth century, as anyone who’s read Humphrey Clinker will know (Representing London, I’m looking at you). In my opinion The Associates not only delivers what was anticipated, but also gives a small glimpse in to the private workings of three very talented artistic minds, and Sadler’s Wells itself.
This year The Associates will be shown in Sadlers Wells and Brighton venues.