U.Dance 2015: Yorkshire Dance presents: Fresh

[All Images credited to Brian Slater]


Part of U.Dance 2015, Fresh was an impressive festival in its own right, giving young dancers from Yorkshire a chance to showcase their talent in a professional venue. In collaboration with Yorkshire Dance and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, on 25th April, thirty dance acts (all aged between 11 and 19) took to one of three stages in a celebration of movement and expression that spanned four and a half hours. Reviewing the event is going to be a mammoth task.

What was clear through all the performances was that although there was a competitive element, with the best judged group going on to perform at the U.Dance final in Plymouth, support, appreciation and dance for pleasure were the participants’ main motivations.

The applause and cheers that rang from Yorkshire Dance’s Loft all the way over to the Playhouse were testament to the power that dance has to excite, entertain and inspire.

The evening began in Studio Three of Yorkshire Dance, with performances from some of the youngest members of the festival. Despite being so young, there was none of the ‘rabbit in headlights’ syndrome that so often blights school performances. All of the children involved in these performances were brimming with confidence, and utterly deserved the whoops that erupted from the audience after each act. Admittedly, I think I was one of few without my own child to support amongst the cast, but nonetheless the work and enthusiasm that went into each piece was evident to even those of us without the rosy tints of parenthood.


412 Dance Theatre (c) Brain Slater
[412 © Brian Slater]


The programme was largely of contemporary performances, with the exceptions being ReBuzz’s breakdance interpretation of challenges of fatherhood (huge points for integrating a pram into the piece) and Yorkshire Dance Street Crew’s explosive street routine, which featured an impressive number of children and a still more impressive level of energy. St John Fisher Dance Company and 412 Dance Theatre both performed contemporary pieces that had a technicality and +commitment to movement that is often lacking from much older dance troupes, and their professionalism deserves recognition. Hull Dance Youth Company showed that the lines between dance and theatre are fluid, with their interpretation of the stresses of working life. NLSPA used great costumes to make their puppet characters come to life. Fresh Energy had a fantastic group dynamic, which showed in the main body of the routine as well as in the lifts. Equally impressive was the partner work that characterised DAZL Youth Company’s piece, which is complex enough, let alone when chairs are involved as well – a theoretical health and safety nightmare, but performed to such a standard that there wasn’t so much as a wobble.

Over the road, West Yorkshire Playhouse was preparing for the main event. The foyer was full, and for good reason; a performance space had been set out for another round of performances. I settled myself down on with a glass of wine to enjoy the next show. Me2 started us off with an energetic piece that both showed group cohesion and individual ability. Street Kingz took group cohesion to another level with their militarised performance (though I do have some issues with ‘Toy Soldiers’ as a theme), with some impressively strong movements. The mood changed dramatically with the girls from SAA-UK, who were transfixing to watch; they perfectly achieved the balance between power and delicacy in both body and facial expressions, which characterises many forms of South-Asian dance. They were followed by Junior Frood, who took the atmosphere in yet another direction; already a local celebrity, the energy and dynamism he brought to the stage was incredible, and he can his move body in ways I can’t even comprehend doing. RJC brought the segment to a fitting close, with a vibrant fusion piece and a carnival atmosphere.


Street Kingz (c) Brian Slater
[Street Kingz © Brian Slater]


Once we had all trooped into the main theatre, I expected things to get a little more serious as the competition got underway. How wrong I was! Our three comperes were all members of the competing dance troupes, following a cheesy script (of the ‘so bad, it’s good variety’), and managed to hype up the audience (now full of previous performers) even more than it had been already. The groups that followed were exceptional, and all clearly deserved their place in this regional final.

I often forgot that I everyone on stage was under 20, such was the maturity of the choreography and performances.

Momentum threw us in the deep end with ‘The Possessed’, and that’s precisely what they were. The spectacularly costumed piece featured demons and their apparently Shakespearean victims, shifting from fluid movement to raw aggression. But the costuming only enhanced the almost animalistic choreography, which pushed the dancers far beyond the norm. Phoenix Dance Theatre followed with ‘Hope Against Hope’, which used a very subtle lighting scheme to create an almost shoal-like group movement. The fluctuating dynamics of human relationships were evident, and the choreography made excellent use of pause to creating tension and emotion. Next up were DAZL Male Youth Dance Company with ‘Contaminated’, and judging by the reaction of the audience, there performance was expected to be a highlight. And it was; they endowed their hip hop style with a sensitivity and sensibility which allowed a moving HIV narrative. Following this hard-hitting story was 412 Dance Theatre with ‘Immaculate Connection’, an exploration of rebirth. The simple staging created a perfect setting for an intimate and intense piece, expertly demonstrating the very real bonds between the dancers. This lyrical piece was a strong contrast with the next: Rodillian’s ‘Alone’ was a brave portrayal of social stigma. Respect is due to any company who works with a non-melodic soundtrack; performing to spoken word poetry cannot be easy, yet they did so faultlessly, and managed to keep cohesion between the multiple music genres they used. Closing the first half were Yorkshire Dance Youth with ‘Conflict and Support’. The exploration of human relationships was complex yet subtle, and the use of trios gave an additional dimension to the reality of the human experience.


DAZL MALES 1 - Fresh 2015
[DAZL Male Youth Dance Company © Brian Slater]


After the interval, the Kingsmill Fitness Express took us all to the beach, to remind us that dance doesn’t have to be hard-hitting and dark. Their display of dance as fitness was light-hearted and colourful, with a refreshingly humorous nod to the attitudes to health in days gone by. Dance United Yorkshire moved on from the energy of life to the mysteries of sleep, transitioning expertly from the fluidity of slumber to the more angular, almost geometric representations of insomnia. A suitable next step was Atmosphere Youth Dance Company’s nightmarish retelling of the Wolf and the Woodcutter from Red Riding Hood, perfectly embodying the pack mentality with an extraordinary level of attack. The performance verged on intimidating (in the best way possible), no little thanks to the vocalisation for which the dancers managed to find additional energy. The next piece was a strong contrast; North Yorkshire Dance’s ‘Stones of Solitude’ was a tranquil, yet powerful, representation of the spiritual nature of the ancient stones that are scattered across our landscape. Echoed by black and white photography, the measured and subtle choreography was successfully in creating an atmosphere of mystique. Equally serious was The North Lindsey Dancers’ emotive tale of war and loss, enacting the experiences of a soldier, his nurse and his young widow. The strong costuming was almost unnecessary as the dancers’ characterisation was so powerful, but it nevertheless completed a cohesive and compelling performance. The Yorkshire Young Dancers Centre for Advanced Training closed the programme with a dramatic group piece that showed off how impressive the human body can be not only on an individual level, but even more so when working together.


Finale (c) Brian Slater
[Finale © Brian Slater]


The festival closed with a huge routine involving all the performers who had graced the Playhouse Stage. It wasn’t until this school disco environment that it became clear just how young some of the participants were. It was an appropriate end to a long evening: young people enjoying the feelings of freedom and inclusion that dance can bring.

Philippa Watts