England’s National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), formed of 38 dancers, closed its tour of Botis Seva’s MADHEAD at Sadler’s Wells in London on 19 July. The work premiered at DanceEast in Ipswich in spring, followed by showings in Plymouth, Newcastle, Essex, Brighton and Birmingham. It’s a shame that they only performed in London one evening, but their energetic MADHEAD show demonstrates that young dancers can be mature movers and that they also deserve to perform on big stages.
The National Youth Dance Company (NYDC)
Since its formation in 2012, more than 200 dancers from 80 towns and cities have performed with The National Youth Dance Company. Funded by the Arts Council England and the Department for Education, the youth company allows dancers to work closely with well-known dance professionals, such as Jasmin Vardimon, Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
In addition to grooming young dancers as part of the NYDC company, the organisation also offers NYDC workshops across the country for dancers ages 15-19 and deaf or disabled dancers up to age 24. Some workshop attendees are then chosen as candidates for a place in the next year’s National Youth Dance Company cohort.
Botis Seva: MADHEAD, Performed by NYDC
A short film introduces a handful of dancers selected to perform with the National Youth Dance Company as directed by Botis Seva. It reminds us that there is a 10-year gap between many of the young dancers and the artists of Botis Seva’s professional company, Far From the Norm. We hear about the young dancers’ challenges, as well as what Seva himself has learned by working with these young, “hungry” dancers.
The actual piece begins slowly, accompanied by Torben Lars Syelvest’s sound score with all the elements of an action film: ominous rumbling, sirens and far-off crashes (like dinosaur stomps in Jurassic Park). The dancers kneel and gesture in unison, presided over by a sole female figure.
Seva’s choreography quickly turns punishing, but the young dancers pull it off. They move sharply and with intense commitment: hurling themselves on the ground, scooping their bodies into a kneeling position and scuttling on all fours. They even scamper forwards in the squatting position of a traditional Russian dancer and repeatedly thrust their bodies upward in an undulating series of half kip-ups. It’s no wonder that Seva took the young performers through a boot camp of sorts to train their bodies.
MADHEAD, divided into three sections (Warhead, Oldhead and Madhead), touches on aggression v. vulnerability, community v. individuality – and youth v. age. Their props alternate as guns, which violently fire off a series of rounds, and canes that support hunched, bobble-headed elderly folk who obliviously paddle around the stage. The show seems especially dark as individuals and a small group are singled out by the menacing soldiers, raising their open hands overhead to protest innocence.
Seva’s theatrical hip-hop piece incorporates a variety of styles. Precise hand choreography hands show traces of tutting and martial arts training, while strong-weighted stomps and kicks are reminiscent of krumping. Outbursts of modern hip-hop with Caribbean vibes mark the second section. The group holds a quick cypher, then challenges invisible off-stage others, as dancers do during hip-hop competitions.
MADHEAD’s extremely physical choreography, complemented by the dramatic audio and lighting (and fog), make the National Youth Dance Company look like professionals. While groups of dancers swoop around the stage, short solos emerge, giving (presumably) everyone a shining moment. The young dancers move confidently – and not just during triumphantly beautiful movement, either. They accordingly adapt their performance and movement qualities to suit each section.
While the show’s direction seems to lose focus, it remains compelling to watch. There are many repeated gestures (elderly figures waggling their fingers, the “shhh!” sign and thumbs ups accompanied by an eerie grin), but their meaning in the context of the entire piece remains cryptic. Still, MADHEAD is a powerful testament to the ability of determined young dancers. Well done, all around.
And please, Mr. Seva, make an extended version of Warhead. We’ll be first in line for tickets.
Did you see Botis Seva’s MADHEAD or any of the other pieces performed by the National Youth Dance Company? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!
Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received free admission to the dance performance in exchange for an honest and professional review.