Founded in 2013, the National Youth Dance Company offers dancers aged 15 to 19 the chance to create a work with a renowned director every year. Previous years have seen Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui take the helm – this year it’s the turn of Michael Keegan-Dolan. Rather than imposing his particular style onto these young dancers Dolan takes their youth as a starting point, exploring and celebrating the unstudied quality of their different physical languages. The title draws on the sense of innocence not as naivety or vulnerability but as a strength – the boldness and impetuosity inherent in youth before experience renders us more circumspect.
Set to Max Richter’s re-composition of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, expertly played by the Southbank Sinfonia, In-Nocentes begins with the troupe of 40 seated around the back of the stage. As the music unfolds, they begin to beat out the rhythm on their knees and with their feet. One stands suddenly and gestures. Another seizes the impulse to move – his arms ripple and flutter like ribbons. Then, one shoots across the space on his back like some sort of gymnastic sea creature. What follows has a brilliantly ludic and playful quality, and it’s a joy to see it performed without the smack of teeth-glinting stage school showiness. A few dancers pick out a loose-limbed module of movement, leaping in tandem and sweeping across the stage, punctuating the air with delicate inflections of their wrists and fingers. Others join them and repeat the phrase until the whole ensemble fills the stage to create currents of subtly-shifting choreographic patterning.
There are moments of humour and irreverence. To a familiar violin refrain, one dancer walks to the centre alone and turns his back to the audience. With a sudden jolt he begins wiggling and thrusting along to the soaring string music, like an over-sexed Travolta-esque youth in an unexpectedly baroque soundworld. Another dancer moves into the space and begins head-banging, her long hair streaming. Another girl cautiously takes up the challenge and more follow suit, until their necks and swirling tresses become strange conduits for Vivaldi’s rhythms. The combined fluency and fierceness of the movement is wonderful to watch. There’s a brilliant section in which the ensemble flocks to the centre, forming a huddle that pulsates with pumping arms and fluid Latin hips. Around them individuals vault across the stage, somersaulting and flipping through the air with fearless energy and faultless control. Having been, in years gone by, possibly the most cautious teenager in Stoke-on-Trent, I have only the greatest respect and admiration for these brilliant young dancers.
National Youth Dance Company are now touring until 23rd July 2016. Click here for more information.