What was it that first made humans dance, was it music or movement? This is the predominant question asked in Pierre Rigal’s piece of hip hop dance theatre at Sadler’s Wells this September. Exploring the origins of choreography, Scandale features six dancers and a musician who explore the complex relationships that push and pull between rhythms, movement, sound and, ultimately, dance.

Originally created for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Suresnes Cites Danse, Scandale is being presented as part of Sadler’s Well’s annual Breakin’ Convention series, an award winning curatorial project that has been stirring up a hip hop theatre revolution since 2004. The show begins as a display of silhouettes and shimmer as a glitzy Voldemort-like figure appears and begins to conduct a group of robotic dancers. This commanding character is musician and drummer Gwenaël Drapeau. The six dancers, Amélie Jousseaume, Bee D (Julien Saint-Maximin), Fabien Maitrel, Kami (Camille Regneault), Steve Lelong (Steve Kamseu) and Tony No Script (Tony Ndoumba), like Drapeau, are all members of Rigal’s company Dernière Minute.

The show begins in pitch-black, and slowly the sequins on the musician’s elaborate costume begin to catch your eye. The musician commands the dancers using his microphone as though it’s a magical staff. The dancers start off stiff, but as the sounds develop into music, the choreography becomes more fluid. Still pondering on the chicken or egg, music or movement question, sounds of the dancers’ breath are layered to create a rhythm, but each dancer’s body is manipulated in a different way to create the sound in the first place. Later, laughter comes into play as another device that demonstrates how sounds like laughter are irrevocably audible and physical phenomena. This captivating, and slightly terrifying, moment of unhinged laughter gives new meaning to the acronym “ROFL.”

It’s an impressive feat to achieve choreography that is so coordinated in its randomness. The company perform the piece in pastel colours on the backdrop of a simple, white set. However, the white screens change colour thanks to Frédéric Stoll’s innovative lighting design and in one particularly striking moment the dancers seem to grab the screens by the “waist,” making the set malleable.

While there’s no clear answer to the show’s question, one might conclude that the answer is that both music and movement were essential for the creation of dance. Either way, Scandale is a futuristic reimagining of the origins of dance, a show that, while bizarre at times, showcases the talent and originality that continues to emerge from the world of hip hop theatre.

Scandale played at Sadler’s Wells until 6 September 2018. For further information, please click here.

Photo: Tristram Kenton