Sadler’s Wells Steps Up to the Camera

 In Lens on Screendance

Take a chair, a young man, and a camera. Add a sprinkling of elegantly simple Prada suits, Die Fledermaus Overture by Strauss, and quotidian pedestrian movement. Such is the recipe for one of the most refreshing dance films I have seen of late. No visceral drama, no smoke, no emotive score… Yes, we all love viewing and even making those dance films, but these days a little humor can go a long way.

This film is one of the brainchildren of an initiative that began in 2005 with Sadler’s Wells Young Associates Program, dedicated to supporting the emerging talent of 18-24-year-olds. So far besides this gem, choreographed and performed by John-William Watson, most recently the program has supported the works of Olive Hardy, Vidya Patel, and Magnus Westwell.

But this film, which along with the others made it into the hallowed halls of Nowness, is special. Directed by seasoned professional Jacob Sutton, whose dance films I have followed for years, what marks this film as singular is the brilliant marriage of choreography, camera, locations, and sound with physical comedy. Comprised of a duet between a dancer and a chair, it is shot from different angles, embellishing at exactly the right moments the falling of the dancer’s body onto the edge of some stairs, or an overhead shot of him jumping in slow motion. The choreography is interwoven with Keatonesque silent film humor: the simplicity of the movement inspired by the chair, with the rummy humor of a row of identical blue garage doors, or the beauty of rocks, water, or an old building, all with a looming gray sky in the background. Supporting the shots is the addition – or just as notable – the occasional removal of the score – which when absent is replaced by silence dotted with location sounds that, married with the visuals, create their own unique musicality.

As noted in the liner notes, the film was made “following a series of creative conversations with Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui” and is very clearly a collaboration between director and choreographer, a union that in my opinion, usually makes for the best dance films.

This initiative by Sadler’s Wells is intended to introduce “the next generation of choreographers.”  I look forward to seeing what John-William Watson does next.

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