MADHEAD, choreographed by the Oliver Award winning Botis Seva, is a visceral and energetic piece focusing on the traumas of group systems. Ostensibly focused on education, the piece takes in other forms of collective, including the military and gangs to create a resounding piece full of fire and fury.
The young company, made up entirely of dancers between the age of sixteen and twenty-four, works excellently as a unit. The synchronisation is slick and the discipline of the dancers is very clear – not only as a theme of the piece but as a theme of the company. A pre-show video shows dancers and assistant choreographers sitting together and discussing the process, with a recurring emphasis on preparing the dancers for the professional dance world. It is evident that this professionalism has been taken on board by the company, producing not only some very slick group work but also some excellent covers and saves – there were a couple of tumbles which were so seamlessly dealt with that they almost appeared to be part of the choreography.
The lighting design builds the worlds of the piece excellently, with striking back lighting slowly revealing shadowy figures or grids of light laid out on the floor. The soundscape is brilliant, with dancers vocalising barked shouts and with the music dipping at points so that the breath of the dancers can be heard above the track. It has to be said that the sound system of Sadler’s Wells was bordering on painfully loud this evening, with the volume of the music detracting from the action onstage.
With regard to the choreography, there was a great deal that was invigorating and exciting. The opening sequences were particularly good, the company working with exceptional control in an extended section of floor work. Later on in the piece individuals started to become separate from the group, expressing their own training through fluid solos or breakdancing interludes. These moments showed the strength and diversity of the troupe of dancers, which ultimately makes the rest of the choreography feel a little bit underplayed: the talent amongst the group is evident, and it seems that they could have been pushed further into more interesting and complex choreography. There was a great deal of repetition, and a lot of running in groups around the stage, which doesn’t make the most of the skills and enthusiasm of this group.
Overall, this is a vibrant piece of work from some excellent young dancers, who are left slightly underworked by choreography that could have afforded to take a few more risks, both physically and imaginatively – walking stick guns and a generalised aggression feel a little clichéd, especially when the dancers are clearly capable of a great deal more.