Verve – Riley Theatre, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds

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Choreographers: Douglas Thorpe, Lali Ayguadé, Mari Carrasco, Botis Seva

Artistic Director: Matthew Robinson

Verve is the postgraduate touring dance company of Northern School of Contemporary Dance. Now in its 14th year it offers the dancers enrolled on NSCD’s MA in Contemporary Dance to work with established and emerging guest choreographers.

Douglas Thorpe’s Send in the Clowns begins with the sweet strains of Mozart. We see a prostrate dancer lie before another dancer in a frilly red top (costume by Andi Walker). The dancer on the floor then starts quivering violently before both dancers begin to move slowly and gracefully. The ensemble arrive dancing in synch with flat feet as they walk together, vigorously throwing themselves down onto the floor, and then sprightly back up again. There follows a shift in the music and a solo in spotlight, arched over and gesticulating. Four more dancers enter and act out pulling and springing, go into frieze and then violent thrash. To match the rhythmic music by Cliff Martinez the ensemble resemble robots with a fixed stare and muscular movements to the accompaniment of metal-bashing. There are waves of movement and the piece seems to be focusing on the individual facing the crowd. Again there is quivering as if at a voodoo ritual. The denouement features rock music by Ori Lichtik and The Subways which goes with the extreme gestures, flailing and fist-punching. Thorpe’s is a dynamic piece with much cause for thought.

Lali Ayguadé’s Shelter commences with two figures standing still at the front of the stage in grey suits, again designed by Andi Walker. As with Thorpe’s work this creation seems to depict the one against the many. The latter are pointing, laughing and whispering while the soloist twists and turns. There is great use of spacing and it is proved that the dancers are capable equally of frenetic movement and gentle slow motion.  As the ensemble line up we see the soloist body-popping in silence with a fearful visage. Armand Amar’s strings come in and the line-up is examined and as a soprano is heard the soloist cries tears, of pain or joy we do not know. He is surrounded and quite comically given the bumps and the performance ends with an intimate trio. Shelter is a complex and ambiguous piece that gives the students lots of range to display their obviously enormous talents.

The intro of Mari Carrasco’s Fast Love and a Crash sees the dancers rooted to the spot, tilting themselves to the sound of drone music. As the soundtrack starts to pulsate further the dancers run in circles as if swept in a storm before returning to slow motion similar to Ayguadé’s use of the same technique. As the music seems to sparkle the dancers kneel at the front of stage, then recline. From being embryonic shapes the group violently gyrates in patterns of movement. They then go back to running, leaping and falling in a more balletic manner. The music becomes harsher and the dancers arch, reach out, twist and form organic shapes. Despite its title the piece is far from romantic but it does display the overwhelming nature of falling in love. Once more the dancers are put to the test and come out with flying colours.

This fabulous evening concludes with Botis Seva’s White Lies, beginning with the dancers going around in a circle with small steps before a brisk march. The frenetic gestures see them like puppets on a string and they move ritualistically as if at some tribal event. Even when running they are hunched over with jagged postures and there begins a stop/go routine. Some of the movements are almost like martial arts as well as resembling body-popping as if at a hip hop gig. There is a persistent nodding, vital jerks and pulsating movements. The finale is almost excessively violent and represents the power and strength of the entire group. White Lies is not a narrative piece as such but it does hint at hidden secrets and ancient knowledge, primal in its nature.

This year’s Verve lives up to the high expectations we have for the event and the four works provide a radically eclectic and roller coaster ride of a show.

Runs until 29th February 2020 and then on tour

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