Ripples of cascading piano notes extended into the cavernous space of the Lilian Baylis studio, as interweaving cello motifs blended to create atmospheric soundscapes. The opening duet between Canadian composer-pianist John Kameel Farah and Berlin-based cellist Anne Müller set the scene for a special evening of music and dance, presented by Adrienne Hart and her company Neon Dance for the latest edition of Sadler’s Well’s forward-thinking ‘Wild Card’ series.
Wild Card gives a platform to a community of adventurous dance-makers, allowing them to curate performances that explore choreography through a multi-disciplinary approach, combining different mediums and expanding the audience’s perspectives on contemporary dance – it’s safe to say that these platforms are vital for the arts and offer unique experiences to the adventurous and the curious.
There’s something a little unique about dance. Like music or painting, it’s expressive and creative, but unlike music or painting its artistic creation is the body itself. Through her dance company Neon Dance, Hart explores the body through a multidisciplinary practise, drawing on not only music but also stage and light production to go deep into the syntax of the body.
With collaboration at its centre, this intimate show illustrated the powerful dynamic between dance, light and music. Additionally, in celebration of Piano Day, a worldwide event initiated by German artist Nils Frahm, Neon Dance incorporated the piano into the evening, with interlude-like passages that complemented the various dance acts.
The opening dance performance expanded the bed of pulsating tension that could be heard from the speakers, expressing a dialogue of angst and conflict between the two dancers on stage. The show included excerpts from Hart’s production titled Empathy, exploring the human condition through movement and light. With coloured lasers that carved out the space from above, dancers enquired ideas of boundary, dialogue and human sensitivity. Illuminated smoke walls produced mesmerising patterns, which the dancers mirrored with their fluid movements.
The first half was concluded with a solo performance from Anna Müller, who many will know from 2015’s Victoria soundtrack. Showcasing some of her forthcoming material, it provided a cinematic close to the first set of performances.
An overarching theme of searching permeated the evening, particularly in the second half, where solo dancers entered a deep psychosis that entranced the viewers flanking the edges of the floor. The first performance featured a dancer who emerged from behind a group of audience members, writhing menacingly with locked eyes, as she made her way into the centre of the stage. The discomfort of those closest to her was visible on their faces, as a couple of somewhat startled members shifted disconcertingly away. Donning a pair of heavy leather boots, the dancer moved emphatically across the floor, striding, erratic, before progressing into uncontrollable exorcism, an entrancing monologue that felt just as much cathartic for the audience as it was for her. As the mood turned, she began taunting audience members as she mimicked their postures, yet incredibly through these reflections one could somehow still empathise deeply with the strife and struggles of this caricature. This was followed by the obviously contorted comedy of a ballet performance in said leather boots – powerful, perhaps tastefully grotesque, this sequence may have summarised best the process of inner conflict.
Moods shifted between introspection, toward more raw, animalistic themes, a culmination of compressing and extending bodies – simultaneously atomised yet somehow connected – and accompanied by stark, at times industrial, downtempo beats.
The performances were more like snapshot scenes, with one of them later featuring traditional Thai musicians playing live and the recent work of Sebastian Reynolds, who soundtracked a quiet and emotive, yet troubled, interaction between male and female, clad in stunning robes of embroidered gold.
Many were delighted with the return of the spectacular ‘Empathy’ lasers, though for the second time the dancer wore a futuristic Tron-like mask, eliminating the facial (and ultimately human) features of the performer, as she danced between the swirling light formations. Farrah erupted into an impressionistic solo performance on the piano, beginning with what I seemed to recognise as a Bach fugue before layering on delays and doing runs on the keyboard using his elbow; which was both clinically precise and outwardly virtuosic.
It feels as though contemporary dance has always struggled to achieve the accessibility it deserves - partly due to its heritage in the traditional arts, and partly due to its perceived abstractness. Luckily, places like London and institutions like Sadler’s Wells have always championed progression, today more than ever. Neon Dance at Wild Card was an enriching illustration of this, which offered audiences a potent dose of dance and music all in one evening.