Home » London Theatre Reviews » Botis Seva’s BLKDOG at Sadler’s Wells

Botis Seva’s BLKDOG at Sadler’s Wells

Life is difficult for many people, often in several different ways. BLKDOG, is a title that appears to draw a parallel from the ‘black dog’ of dark moods, as Winston Churchill referred to it. With music at times so loud it felt as though the sound was bouncing off the walls of the Sadler’s Wells auditorium, a group of seven dancers tell a story that doesn’t have very many glimpses of light, both physically and metaphorically. Marks for consistency, and for sticking to the point.

BLKDOG - Credit Camilla Greenwell.
BLKDOG – Credit Camilla Greenwell.

As with some contemporary dance, there is variation between movement and stillness, which makes people like me who are more used to seeing something happening on stage at all times (such is the way with plays and musicals, where the word ‘pause’ has to be written into scripts and librettos) consider the value of moments of contemplation and reflection that counterbalance the borderline explosive scenes in which the performance space is, in a nutshell, busy.

It is never (at least to me) comfortable watching violence: I admit I occasionally looked away during one particularly brutal moment. It wasn’t quite clear why it happened, and there wasn’t quite an acceptance of it as part and parcel of twenty-first-century urban living: if it is a slightly confusing production at face value (and it is), this seems indicative of the various uncertainties and imponderables of life. Who knows what pleasures – and terrors – tomorrow will bring?

The show is careful to demonstrate that whatever life’s circumstances may be, it is worth fighting on rather than giving up. Of course, there are occasions when palliative care, for instance, is the least worst option – but as far as this production goes, these are younger people with much of their lives still ahead of them. Navigating through poor race relations, mental health issues and a society where social class still counts for something – for better or for worse – is a complex task, borne out through some intricately sophisticated choreography, executed throughout to perfection.

It’s still relatively unusual to see such hard-hitting (in more ways than one) working-class stories in a dance performance. It was easy to see why some in the press night audience rose to their feet at curtain call – aside from friends and family of cast and creatives, these were younger people who related to the narrative. Feelings of disorientation and disillusionment are abound, and the dancers’ initial movements are deliberately tentative, portraying characters who do not exactly brim with confidence and assertiveness when they have taken so many knocks that the desire and even ability to walk tall just isn’t there. It’s a sad, sad sight.

Some of the more harrowing scenes had an air of familiarity to them, which really is a damning indictment of the world in which we live. They weren’t clichéd, but were recognisable, and in all the chaos comes a voice from somewhere, telling the dancers that it’s okay. I could be completely wrong about this, but I draw the conclusion that the production is asserting that young people with mental health problems are suffering through no personal fault of their own. But it never preaches a message. Rather, it draws the audience in, demonstrating despair and hope with an infectious energy, while tackling head-on some pertinent current issues.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

BLKDOG won the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production in 2019 and is back with a London Premiere. First shown at Sadler’s Wells as part of Reckonings in 2018 the work has been developed into this new, full-length version.

Vital and gripping, BLKDOG is  Botis Seva’s haunting commentary on surviving adulthood as a childlike artist. A genre-defying blend of hip hop dance and free form antics, BLKDOG explores the inner battlefield of an ageing artist trying to retain his youth.

Botis Seva’s BLKDOG at Sadler’s Wells
19 – 20 November 2021


Scroll to Top