Thank God for the fast-forward button. Sadler’s Wells had planned a tentative return to live performance last month but the renewed lockdown forced a rethink and the programme was niftily reconfigured for the small screen. The result, Dancing Nation, is a generous serving of old, new and borrowed work from 15 UK dance-makers. Unfortunately the BBC’s three hour-long iPlayer films pad out the dance content with interviews and mission statements plus non-stop Yentobbing from the inevitable talking head.
Brenda Emmanus, one-time frontwoman of BBC’s The Clothes Show, speaks fluent presenterese, emphasising every other word and greeting each number with kindergarten delight: ‘What a treat we have for you!… Another thought-provoking, exciting line-up of dance for you to enjoy.’ Whatever happened to captions?
Matthew Bourne’s 1988 hit, Spitfire, is a saucy but affectionate parody of ballet manhood styled in the manner of an underwear catalogue. Characterful, clever and brisk, Bourne’s pocket classic gets the first hour off to a deceptively jolly start. Contemporary dance is fairly wholegrain at the best of times but the determination to reflect current events makes for a decidedly downbeat tone.
Shobana Jeyasingh’s Contagion, written in 2018 to commemorate the centenary of the Spanish Flu pandemic, has been granted a new lease of life. The eight-woman ensemble is filmed very handsomely but the movement is bland, the video projections feel leadenly literal (chest X-rays? Really?) and much of the voiceover — graphic accounts of symptoms — feels like drawing the short straw in the doctor’s waiting room.
The Wells’s ballet company chums are also out in force. There is an extract from Will Tuckett’s 2020 Lazuli Sky, an attractively danced, exquisitely designed workout for the Birmingham Royal Ballet allegedly inspired by social distancing.