Sadler’s Wells has bestowed the accolade of ‘associate artist’ to 16 choreographers, giving this select group of creatives their golden seal of approval. The Associates is a showcase of three such talents: Kate Prince, Crystal Pite and Hofesh Shechter. All are established and respected in a variety of choreographic arenas, from Prince who is artistic director of the street dance and hip-hop group ZooNationto Shechter who is known for his political yet nihilistic style. Completing the triple bill is the newest associate artist to join the pack: Canadian-born Pite, whose William Forsythe training resonates loudly through her narrative-filled work. With the pick of the dance world at their fingertips, expectations were high, and I for one was keen to see an evening of work with which Sadler’s Wells had deemed worthy to associate themselves.

Trapped beneath a harsh narrow spotlight we find soloist Tommy Franzén, complete with bowler hat, tail-suit and wooden cane; however, scan down this Charlie Chaplin-inspired outfit and you’ll spot some black Reebok-style trainers – hardly conventional attire, but not surprising really when you consider that ‘SMILE’ is directed by urban choreographer Prince. With Nat King Cole’s song ‘Smile’ blaring out of the gramophone, Franzén embodies Chaplin’s showman-like nature, with slapstick skits and an unquenchable thirst to entertain the crowd. Prince skilfully peppers Charleston and tap dancing movement vocabulary with modern articulated isolations such as popping and locking. An unexpected and abrupt change of pace means that we are yanked out of the golden age of the silent movie and thrust into a rave-filled existence, complete with flashing strobe lights and thumping techno beats. It’s a baffling shift that is flakily explained by Franzén’s character being an insomniac. The remainder of ‘SMILE’ then switches between these two jarring worlds in what, to me, feels like two juxtaposing works that have been shoehorned together. It seems like Prince is keen for Franzén to get all of his choreographic toys out of the toy box, and for the work to be both abstract yet character driven, which for me results in a piece that feels confused as it lacks any clear identity.

The next piece is Pite’s ‘A Picture of You Falling’, a transfixing duet that starts with an omnipresent voice, which begins by naming the body parts that Peter Chu and Anne Plamondon are using as they effortlessly suspend and spin within the space. The pair’s molten lava-like fluidity is a real joy to watch, coupled with a suspense-filled narrative that slowly trickles and teases a wider context, resulting in this being the stand-out work of the evening. Entrancingly lit by Robert Sondergaard, ‘A Picture of You Falling’ is captivating from start to finish, and I’d have happily spent the whole evening in Pite’s mesmerising choreographic realm.

The final work within this triple-bill is Shechter’s ‘the barbarians in love’; like Pite, he also uses an off-stage voice to guide and direct the movement. However the voice that Shechter employs has a more eerie and robotic quality, and sounds quite like a deranged sat-nav. This voice instructs the dancers with commands, to which they then respond with primitive body percussion and ape-like movement. With strong echoes of Shechter’s previous works, but failing to pack the same choreographic punch, you can’t help but feel that Shechter is recycling parts of works we’ve seen before. Much like ‘SMILE’, Shechter’s work also takes a strange turn when his own voice is added to the conversation, as the female robotic voice asks him “Hofesh, what are you doing?” – a question that I also found myself asking. Personally I thought that this self-referential interaction drags on for too long and feels a bit self-indulgent. I quite enjoyed the movement itself but there isn’t enough of it to savour.

The Associates is a very mixed bag, where some aspects of the evening certainly work better than others. These are three talented choreographers and interesting concepts, but I found myself questioning some of their execution.

The Associates played at Sadler’s Wells until 8 February. For more information, see the Sadler’s Wells website.