Choreography: Akram Khan, Lea Anderson, James Cousins, Jordan Massarella
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Verve is the postgraduate performance company of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Each year they audition and pick the best of the year’s graduates and take them out on an extensive tour with a repertoire of (mostly) newly commissioned work by established and emerging choreographers. This gives these promising young dancers valuable real-world performance experience while also promoting new contemporary choreography.
Verve 2012 features a diverse programme of new work and a restaging of Akram Khan’s Vertical Road. First up was James Cousins’ Dark in the Afternoon, a male duo exploring emotional interaction despite personal and situational barriers. This piece, strongly performed by Oliver Capps and Tom Tindall, was a powerful starting point. Set to an evolving, deconstructed electronic score by Ben Frost, the choreography was intense, detailed and athletic, exploring and challenging the elusive, self-contained nature of male relationships; making good use of specific lighting to enclose and expand the stage, examining the potential distance and closeness between these two powerful young dancers.
This was followed by Jordan Massarella’s For Dear Life, which looked at sadness and the attempt to avert inevitability. This distinctive work had a slightly disturbing, claustrophobic sense of playfulness distorted and somehow decaying. Anna Borràs, Claire Rodemark, Kasia Ustowska and Tom Tindall – who has a real presence with his well-developed physique and strong dancing – were all superb: broken-limbed, emotionally present and individual. Clive Wilkinson’s score and Hayley Claire Neil’s costumes added to the uneasy air. Third piece of a strong first half was a new commission by Lea Anderson, now without her own company thanks to the arts cuts. I wasn’t expecting to like Dynamo, and it started with Anderson’s characteristic awkward, strangely posed non-dancing, unflatteringly lit. But as the piece progressed it generated a real sense of momentum and acceleration, driven by Steve Blake’s compelling score. Drawing on constructivist ideas, with simple shift dresses by Selina Nightingale, the use of disconnected everyday movement, physical manipulation, repetition, impetus, and the nine dancers, with their fixed blankly emotive expressions evoked early 20th century expressionist figurative painting. Worker women trapped in a machine of human behaviour. It was the most enjoyable piece of Anderson’s I’ve yet seen.
The main event was the company’s exclusive restaging of Vertical Road. Drawing inspiration from Sufi and exploring man’s earthly nature, ritual and the struggle to achieve the spiritual within the corporeal, this is a powerful piece of choreography by Khan and the Verve dancers step manfully up to the task. Nitin Sawhney’s score is pounding yet beautiful, as are Kimie Nakano’s costumes, that give off clouds of fine white powder as the dancers move. Vertical Road is a compelling and entrancing sequence of swirling, jerking and falling ritual movements that speak of supplication and obedience and desire for higher things, drawing movement from other cultures to create a vibrant piece of modern contemporary dance that has a timeless evocative atmosphere that grows to a crescendo then ends with a moving sense of yearning as the music dies away.
The current Verve crop are a distinctive and interesting group of dancers with hopefully bright futures as they start their professional careers, and the current repertoire is varied and challenging.
I liked Verve 11. Verve 2012 was better.