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DFS: Cecilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud | Sadler’s Wells

DFS Centre Pompidou 2016 © Hervé Véronèse
DFS Centre Pompidou 2016 © Hervé Véronèse

The stage has gone dark, it’s silent and then there’s the sound of singing, weak singing not even in tune. So this is what the programme promises will be powerful polyphonies, the heart sinks, the tone for a show as disappointing can be quickly set.

The hour-long programme improved in tone with some of the dancing and choreography, the singing didn’t. At times, including towards the end, it sounded like amateur carol singing, excruciatingly out of tune. This was on the Sadler’s main stage. It’s not good enough. Using the whole body to communicate communicated something different than the creative team must have hoped.

Despite the potential excitement of Jamaica, dancehall being performed by an international ensemble described as five ballerinas and two collaborators, (including the choreographers), the scale of the first half of the one hour set was set too small for the auditorium. More suitable for the Lilian Baylis studio (or The Place) in nearly every respect.

There was, however, one section which stood out from this melange, three female dancers dancing a combination of Jamaican dancehall and ballet moves, including en pointe, making them spiky creatures of rhythmic angles. This at least was first class choreography by Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud reflecting the current drive to meld raw, rhythmic street dance with the precision of ballet. They’ve found something interesting here.

One of the three female dancers in this section was Erika Miyauchi. She’s superb throughout the show, every move taut and flowing with the rigour of discipline. Miss Miyauchi was the dancer to follow at all times no matter where she was placed on the stage.

The dancing in the show among the four female dancers was not consistent in quality, the good dancers describing this difference when performing the same moves in the same space as the more floppy, hunching over dancers who perhaps imagined they were being organic.

The show came to more certain life when the Sadler’s stalls audience, always made up of many dancers, was invited on stage to participate in the show by the two charismatic male dancers. There was some great dancing as well as fun going on then. So successful was this section that the runtime for the show on opening night was longer by fifteen minutes

The two male dancers, Craig Black Eagle aka Dragon Eagle and Damion BG Dancerz from Kingston, Jamaica brought the relief of impressive dynamism and scale to the stage. The programme does not make it possible to distinguish who is who but though they were alike in the vitality of engagement they were different in nuance and approach.

There’s no notable narrative in the show. There’s a seventh dancer in a tracksuit who cross-gender dances performing female choreography, is presented at the end of the show as a reveal as being by birth male, though you’ve probably guessed already.

The ‘sexy’ element referred to in the programme, apart from one of the male dancers displaying his impressive core was mostly choreography requiring the female dancers to wave their inner crotches pointedly at the audience. This may be intended as some post-ironic statement and yes, this may be part of dancehall moves in Jamaica, but in Islington, it came across to this female reviewer as lame.

The evening ended with more execrable singing and an unsatisfying scene intended to be dramatic but falling short. Someone in the audience was laughing, maybe they were supposed to, it was impossible to tell.

2 gold stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

The award-winning team Cecilia Bengolea and François Chaignaud have collaborated together since 2005, with companies including Lyon Opera Ballet and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch recruiting them to challenge their usual repertoires and style with their fresh and experimental edge.

For DFS, Cecilia Bengolea travelled to Jamaica to immerse herself in Kingston’s defiant dance scene, while François Chaignaud pursued the study of traditional medieval vocal polyphony repertory, stretching back hundreds of years.

Bringing their research together, the choreographers invited three ballerinas and two dancehall specialists to join them in this exploration of song and dance. The outcome is a truly unique clash of cultures, dance and music styles that entertains and enlightens. From vibrant dancehall rhythms to melodic vocal harmonies, with some rap thrown in for good measure, DFS plays with the combinations of these music styles and their dance counterparts to create something new and unusual.

Cecilia Bengolea & François Chaignaud — DFS
23 & 24 April 2018
Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R


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