Anand Bhatt’s Wildcard takeover of Sadler’s Wells Lilian Baylis Studio comprises a variety of contemporary dance acts he has personally selected. All of the acts are great as stand-alone performances, but it is just a shame that there isn’t more cohesion to link them and make the evening feel like a rounded ‘show’, rather than a bitty selection of talent. Wildcard evenings at Sadler’s Wells give developing artists the opportunity to bring their fresh ideas to a professional platform, and you certainly cannot criticise Anand Bhatt for giving the chance of this platform to a wide variety of performers. However, the acts are not without fault, many of them falling into the category of ‘contemporary dance for contemporary dance’s sake’ and not having a clear purpose or message other than as an excuse to display flesh.
With five acts in one evening (four in the Lilian Baylis space, the other a pre-show piece in the foyer), the format makes it easy to draw comparisons between the performances. One act stands heads and shoulders above the rest: Lali Agyuade’s dance about the corruption of America, Portland. The other dancers are certainly accomplished, but are no match for Agyuade’s clarity of message. A frozen battered American flag is planted centre stage in a mock-up moon landing, marking the background to her dance and reminding the audience of their perceptions of America’s achievements. Agyuade does not ‘dance’ in the traditional sense, but rather moves in such an absurd and chilling way that she recreates the hopes, fears and shattered dreams of thousands of Americans. Argyuade’s body is lithe and her movements are snake-like: dressed in a simple black jumpsuit, she becomes a representation of all Americans, young and old, male and female. Marcos Morau (her conceptual director) layers underneath a chilling score, mixing Obama’s inaugural speech, the sounds of the Georgia school shootings and the screams of the LA celebrity culture. It is just a shame that this (which would fare so well as a single short act) is surrounded by dancers that are, quite bluntly, not as good.
Her physical flexibility is nearly matched by the verbal dexterity of the evening’s compere, John Berkavitch, whose honeyed vocal tones segways into each act and reads his own poetry to distract from the stagehands changing the set. His words are punchy and thought-provoking, but somewhat incongruous alongside the fluidity of the dance performers either side of them. I am sure his one-man show is entertaining, but his anecdotes involving talking cats were not quite right for introducing conceptual dance acts.
The other four acts (including the pre-show Bollywood dance by Natalia Hildner) are talented, but give very little away as to what they are about to the lay audience member. The exuberance of the dancers makes the final two acts of the show Appel and We are Made of Stories entertaining, but both have the tendency to be overly-sentimentalised representations of relationships: male-female between dancers Mireia Pinol and Chris Knight, and then female-female between Karima El Amrani and Diane Malet. It is a shame that the show does not have more cohesion, and I remain unconvinced that the acts have any link other than that Anand Bhatt likes them. With a little bit more thought and care on the behalf of the Lilian Baylis programmers in terms of how to present the show and link the acts, this could’ve been presented as a far more sophisticated mini-dance festival rather than just formatted like a dance school end-of-year showcase.
Wildcard by Anand Bhatt played at the Lilian Baylis Studios at Sadler’s Wells on 30 October. Other Wildcard performances are playing until 27 November. For more information and tickets, please visit the Sadler’s Wells website.