tue 11/08/2020

Say Yes To Another Excess - TWERK, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews

Say Yes To Another Excess - TWERK, Sadler's Wells

Say Yes To Another Excess - TWERK, Sadler's Wells

Twitching rumps and UK grime are observed from an objective distance

The dizzying whirling dervish circus troupeEmily Zeizig

"The music will be loud," the slender usher warns on entry to altered natives' "Say Yes To Another Excess" – TWERK, as a Grime bassline shakes the flimsy theatre floor. She hands over a text-heavy programme and does not frisk me. This is no London Bridge warehouse, although bouncers giving out freesheets on the door could be a great way to get the middle classes down to a rave. For now regular Rinse FM DJs Skilliam and Elijah are coming to the ballet.

As the audience files in the dancers are already twirling around the stage-cum-dancefloor costumed in variations on an Eighties camp disco / Afro-punk theme. In the corner Skilliam and Elijah (of "Butterz") are bopping, eyes focussed on the dancers as Elijah cranks up the handclap on the mixer. The dizzying whirling dervish circus troupe continue spinning, admirably proving their ability to spot their turns, in eccentric fashion. 

The lights fade to black and a strobe beam flashes across the ceiling, revealing lead dancer and choreographer Francois Chaignaud posing, as a deep, garage bassline strikes the gut. His farcical facial expressions and camp eye glitter are compellingly at odds with the visceral ferocity of the music. He is joined by Élisa Yvelin whose neon Mohawk, hand-licking and floor slapping lend her a persona somewhere between a punk and a parrot.

The choreography reflects the groove like a Russian gymnast backflipping to Stravinsky

The strobes flash as the two dancers wrestle and writhe. New York voguer Alex Mugler joins, pirouetting in a onesie with overt camp and classical elegance, while Cecilia Bengolea – the other half of the choreographic direction – flips herself onto him revealing her "Butterz"-emblazoned pants. 

The choreography reflects the groove like a Russian gymnast backflipping to Stravinsky, and it certainly evokes the fusion of clownish freedom and technical virtuosity in dubstep and other urban dance styles. There is a consciously intellectual disconnect between the pulsing bass wobble and the arse jiggling, demonstrating that these trained dancers from France, Brazil, Argentina and New York are largely exploring twerking and grinding as a formative exercise, rather than purely responding sensually to the music. 

Bengolea strips down to a glitter bodice and rides Mugler. Chaignaud joins the pseudo-orgy, and they become a serpent, bodies never gliding with the sex of a Jamaican dancefloor, but recreating it, avoiding seediness through a certain analytical objectivity.

Sadler's WellsThe music - all of which is mixed live, unknown to the dancers and different every night - shifts to a cool, jazz organ sample and backbeat, as the chorus sit stage left licking ice lollies, while Yvelin solos. Her movements combine stunning athletic precision with unexpected duck-like waddles and psychotic tendencies, biting her own foot and baring her tongue compulsively. 

Skilliam kills the treble leaving only the muddy bass frequencies which vibrate every panel and surface of the theatre, as Ana Pi takes centre stage. She moves in circles, frail but assured, and is joined by Chaignaud and they embrace as the music fades completely to leave the chorus breathing, singing snippets of old school anthems.

The lyrics of Sean Paul, Alicia Keyes and Kelis, sung with uninhibited childishness, like the comedic sound of a silent disco. "I can do it on a dick" Bengolea mumbles sweetly. These moments of intimacy and vulnerability offset the sensationalism, also drawing in the audience, scattered with young Londoners who giggle with nostalgia. 

Later on in the show there are 4 striking Rihannas in matching black panties. Pi winds and twerks with fierce adolescence as her backing dancers gyrate awkwardly behind. The extravagant facades begin to break down, wigs fall off and Yvelin's thick, natural hair is revealed. She lies topless, panting before a voyeuristic chorus, who pinch her nipples and stroke lecherously.

It is no surprise to learn later, at the post-show talk, that the choreographic duo met at a march for sex workers' rights. The theme of sexual depravity and exploitation is clearly central to their practice, and present here, though never explicitly. 

Musically, the set is courageously old school. N.E.R.D, the classic Damian Marley "They call it murder" sample of Ini Kamoze and even Quincy Jones, make an appearance. But the real triumph is the originality of Skilliam and Elijah's mixes and arrangements, the clarity of sound, and the diversity of the beats and rhythms they combine, showcasing the true soul of the UK music scene.

The DJs admit to provoking the dancers, rather than being led, and the directors' choice not to tamper with their way of working shows an admiration for grime music's raw originality. However it leaves you wondering how they might collaborate more reciprocally and what artistic limbo could emerge.

The final scene is a montage of twitching arse cheeks and spanking, concluding with a train of interlocking arses, Chaignaud's testicles dangling. The arse-train advances forward like a surreal carnival, simultaneously celebrating and objectifying this anatomical centre of modern urban dance. It visually leaves the piece where it's meant to stand – anthropologically inquisitive and sensually distant. 

The arse-train advances forward like a surreal carnival, simultaneously celebrating and objectifying

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