The stage is dark for several minutes. Almost unrecognisably, light begins to seep into the performance space, gradually revealing the cast of the National Youth Dance Company submerged underneath layers of fabric.
Their bodies are unrecognisable as human forms, metamorphosing between isolated pebbles, swirling sufi-like figures and one interconnected mass (which is poignant regarding the introductory video describing the company’s emphasis on unity of individuals). Musician – David King – is also submerged under a dark cloth as he provides a sound-score on his centre stage drum kit, dictating the dancer’s movements with rhythmical supremacy.
There’s a stark, sudden change, as the stage is illuminated by a circle of bright white light, the dancers snapping into formation around its circumference. It’s reminiscent of a ceremonial ring, bringing the theme of ritual – one of guest Artistic Director Damien Jalet’s key themes in Tarantiseismic – to the forefront of the audience’s mind. It is now that the young dancers (described as “some of the brightest talent across England”) – are given the chance to demonstrate their individuality, whilst still maintaining a commonality of movement language.
The choreographic aesthetic is one of abandon, the dancers convulse their bodies in time to King’s rhythms as if at the mercy of a musical deity. There is a series of crossings, performers intermingling and drifting in and out of unison. At times it feels as if the stage is too crowded and that the intricate floor patterns they trace become lost due to the sheer number of performers.
However, the 38 strong cast comes into its own in unison sections which provide an overwhelming sense of visual spectacle and emotional resonance. In series of tightly packed phalanxes these performers again mutate between a variety of different states. At first, they become an undulating sea of audible breath, as they undergo a process of ritualistic repetition of an almost hypnotic nature. They then transition between well-rehearsed chanting (the relevance of the recited words is somewhat unclear) and moments reminiscent of desperation, grief, and prayer.
Quieter moments provide a much-needed contrast to earlier frantic sections, yet at times they are in danger of allowing Tarantiseismic to lose momentum. However, this slight recession in energy is more than made up for in a physically demanding, celebratory finale.
The dancers huddle around the godlike musician, subserviently reinstating the podium on which he resides into the centre of the stage. Suddenly, they burst into a series of vibrant circular pathways around the stage, bathed in a spectrum of colourful light. Whilst the movement language maintains its characteristic abandonment, it now invokes the sense of a trance-like, hedonistic frenzy opposed to one of detrimental obedience.
Perpetual rotations not only result in a mesmeric display of physical virtuosity (made even more astonishing by the company’s status as a prevocational training initiative) but also in a finale that imbues all observers with an infectious joy that only dance can confer.
National Youth Dance Company’s Tarantiseismic premiered at Sadler’s Wells on 19 April 2017, and will tour the UK. For more information visit nydc.org.uk.