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National Youth Dance Company / Sharon Eyal – Used To Be Blonde

Used To Be Blonde by the National Youth Dance Company and Sharon Eyal. Photo by Stephen Wright
Used To Be Blonde by the National Youth Dance Company and Sharon Eyal. Photo by Stephen Wright

I’m as baffled by this production’s title as I was before I saw it: Used To Be Blonde. What does it mean to ‘be’ blonde in the first place? There are several definitions in the ‘Urban Dictionary’ online, the most prominent asserting the term is a hair colour “usually associated with ditziness and stupidity”, adding, “Certainly some blondes are ditzy and stupid, but so can anyone. Let their personality speak for itself, not their hair.” The performance itself has no discernible narrative (harsh, I know, but true – the exit poll opinion from a fellow theatregoer was, “I have no idea what that was about”). The lighting (Alon Cohen), presumably deliberately, didn’t provide much of an opportunity to even determine one performer’s personal characteristics from another, so I can only conclude that the creatives have their reasons for calling their show Used To Be Blonde, whatever they are, and leave it at that.

Forty-one performers from the National Youth Dance Company (‘NYDC’ to its friends and supporters), all dressed in black, take to the stage after a preamble introducing the NYDC to the audience in the form of a brief documentary video. The cynic in me would dismiss the video as self-congratulatory. That is too simplistic, and crude: there’s nothing wrong with setting some context to the performance and getting to know the various styles of the NYDC’s members and participants, all aged between 16 and 18, with some leeway if a young dancer is deaf and/or disabled.

The challenge, for many of them, is to assimilate their preferred styles of dancing with what they’re learning at NYDC, and it seems to be a two-way street, because what they’re learning can, in turn, be channelled back into their specialisms. The very name ‘National Youth Dance Company’ strongly implies an almost boundless energy, and guest artistic director Sharon Eyal has utilised the company’s vibrancy very well.

It takes a little while to get going, as though breaking the audience in gently, with the pulsating beats and rhythms of a nightclub, put together by Ori Lithtik, described in the programme as a ‘creative DJ’ – the sort of music that, if the bass were cranked up to the maximum possible level, one would be listening to with one’s chest. The movements of the company are very subtle but very watchable, and the timing is exquisite and precise, very much in keeping with the music.

The sideways shifting made it feel as though the stage itself was moving – almost anything is possible at Sadler’s Wells, but the stage was definitely static. The illusion created was quite incredible, though, and unlike some dance productions, the movement and action are continuous: there is always something to look at. I couldn’t determine whether every performer was given an opportunity to shine individually (I would like to think they were), but a good number had solo parts, paradoxically without shifting the focus away from the group as a whole.

Contained yet unrestrained, lots of sharp, little movements define this brief performance, incremental steps rather than huge leaps and cartwheels. The thing about contemporary and interpretive dance is that there are no spoilers possible, a reviewer’s delight in some respects. With no clearly delineated plotline, the movements come across as repetitive in parts, without any context as to why this would be. However, this is quite a remarkable display of stamina and vibrancy, and the company doubtlessly enjoyed their time on stage, which is always good to see. The dancers of the future are already hugely talented.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Now in its sixth year, National Youth Dance Company returns to Sadler’s Wells with the premiere of a new work created by the 2017-18 guest artistic director Sharon Eyal.

“A name worth taking note of” (Evening Standard), Eyal is one of the most exciting female choreographers working today. The Israeli dance-maker co-founded L-E-V dance company, which performed Eyal’s OCD Love at Sadler’s Wells in 2016. This new commission will contain Eyal’s signature style, conveying extreme emotions through movement.

This unique choreographic approach combined with the young dancers’ energy and talent is set to produce a mesmerising experience, pushing the dancers to their limits.

National Youth Dance Company / Sharon Eyal — Used To Be Blonde
7 April 2018
Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R


2 thoughts on “National Youth Dance Company / Sharon Eyal – Used To Be Blonde”

  1. Gaynor Entwistle

    I am puzzled by the review written by Chris Onaweng…the start of the review reads as though he has just wandered off the street into the theatre without bothering to gain any prior knowledge of dance or NYDC.
    Dance doesn’t need to have a narrative and in the case of this particular piece it was all the better because of it.
    The video at the start is by no means self congratulatory.It is an important element of the performance to share with the audience what the National Youth Dance company is and what it means for the young people to be part of a company,working together and sharing their incredible talent.
    The dancers created this amazing 1 hour long piece in just 4 weeks with the choreographer Sharon Eyal.I was totally in awe of each and every one of the dancers,completely transfixed throughout.It was tense and atmospheric,the music and lighting together with the costumes were incredibly powerful.The reaction from the audience when the performance finished was powerful too as they took to their feet to applaud.Wow!I will definitely be going to see this again when they tour at the end of June.

    1. Silvija Davidson

      My son is in his second year of NYDC residency. Whilst he, and I, are immensely grateful for the experience and I am also in awe of the company’s achievement and of ‘each and every one of the dancers’ I have to say that Chris Omaweng’s review resonated with me on a number of levels. Not, perhaps, as much as that by Debra Craine in The Times – considerably more critical of the piece (though not of the dancers) but I grew weary, then irritated and angry by the relentless, dehumanising, hopelessly dystopian vision perpetrated by Eyal and by Lichtik’s brain-numbing score.

      It would be disingenuous of me to hold up my hand and say ‘me too’ as regards the ‘What Was It About?’ comments as I have seen Eyal’s choreography both on stage and on video, and know that she ‘used to be blonde’. My reaction was more a ‘So What?!’ That’s until the anger kicked in. Not so much at the showcasing of dancers who can echo Eyal’s style most successfully – it’s the choreographer’s priority, though possibly questionable in the NYDC context, a point at which Chris hints; but more seriously the de-individualising, roboticising regimentation of the dancers in the service of a deeply depressing dystopian vision in which all resistance, even of the ‘in-your-face’ vogueing variety, is futile, no light shines, darkness reigns.

      Leaving aside any moral slant on the matter (though I’m not sure one should), yes you could choose to be hypnotised by the dancers’ undoubted professionalism, prowess and energy, but for me the whole construct was tiresomely self-referential, self-indulgent and sticking two fingers up at the audience – or at any rate anyone who might refuse to be subsumed by the choreographer’s reign of darkness.

      But perhaps Jalet (last year’s choreographer) has a point in suggesting that Used to Be Blonde and his hugely contrasting Tarantiseismic, with its tribute to the individual, and notes of shadow and light, could form fascinating companion pieces on a future occasion.

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