BLKDOG – Far From The Norm

Jul 14, 2021

Martha Buss

Martha Buss

Opinion

Venue: Sadler’s Wells & BBC Arts, Dancing Nation (online)
Date: 5 February 2021
Ticket price: Free

Choreographic prowess and bold execution combine to offer a dark yet relatable examination of the self.

In February 2021 Sadler’s Wells and BBC Arts presented Dancing Nation, ‘a day-long festival of world- class dance featuring new works and audience favourites from big-name artists and breakthrough talent in ballet, contemporary and hip-hop dance styles’. The second of the three online programmes featured an excerpt of BLKDOG by the experimental hip-hop company Far From The Norm. Since the piece won Best New Dance Production at the 2019 Olivier Awards, Artistic Director Botis Seva’s reputation for eye-catching choreography has only grown. After host Brenda Emmanus introduces the piece as a genre defying and hypnotic look at retaining youth and gaining acceptance, the digital audience is plunged into a dark and dense atmosphere.

As six hunched dancers come into view there is a sense of solitary presence and internal focus established through their tense body language. The hooded figures anxiously pulsate against the floor as if a frustrated tic has taken hold. From this point the foreboding mood griped and held my attention. In expanding movement further, a growing yet controlled mania unfolds in the space. Momentary shifts in speed and facial expression keep the audiences’ eyes dancing between those within the group. Wishing I could fix my focus in multiple places at any one time, I took full advantage of the digital platform to rewind the intricate choreography and appreciate each member of ensemble in their free form mastery.

While the figures flicker across the bottom of a dim lit stage, light channelled from above suggests higher aspirations that the brooding shadows are unable to reach. The movement churns in a relentless struggle to rise from the downward drag of gravity. The performers seem unable to escape punchy metallic clangs, booming recollective speech and haunting gasps that impose from all angles. This sense of confinement is layered with gruff and growling breath to heighten the sense we are observing a tortured internal monologue.

There is rigorous design in Seva’s choreographic sequences that allows grounding rhythm to underpin the delivery of technical skill. Defensive and agitated gestures are executed with such precision that we recognise clear intent: from an accusatory point of the finger to the surrender of holding both hands high. Every available muscle is used to describe the difficulty of an identity crisis so much so that the audience at home can feel the energetic hit from each move even through a screen. The performers convey the intimate issue so captivatingly that it invites us to join them on their blurry quest for answers. BLKDOG is a multi dimensional work that, in avoiding dancers directly performing to a ‘front’, aids the sense we are watching a personal journey unfold behind closed doors.

As a wider consideration to my experience of this piece, the Dancing Nation online festival came at a moment in the pandemic when general public moral was weak from relentless restrictions and disheartening headlines. The experience of coping with change and loosing valuable time is painfully relevant and thus BLKDOG stood out amongst the bill. I offer praise and gratitude to both Sadler’s Wells and BBC Arts for providing a motivational reminder of why we love dance at a crucial time.

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