CRACKz, Sadler’s Wells, London – review

An unexpected and, I found, not wildly fathomable evening. But splendid. We saw Bruno Beltrão and his Grupo de Rua de Niterói male troupe five years ago, offering vivid Brazilian street dance, expressing with blazing energy something of the urban culture of their society. Returned this week for two performances in Rosebery Avenue, Beltrão proposes an allusive and stunning (if fragmented) view of the hip-hop dance life of his cast, based upon “a series of actions randomly chosen on the internet” which the dancers then explore.

The stage is bare, the lighting minimal, not to say exiguous and murky. Costuming is “come as you are”, the sound-track a noisy beat of no great sophistication. And what happens? Dance happens. Dance made from these dancers’ lives, their skills, their (I venture) desolations and aspirations, happens. Twelve men and a woman race and rage and slither and skitter and coalesce and, significantly, show hip-hop as a language of feeling and experience and justification. (“I dance, therefore I am”!)

Beltrão’s shaping of their actions is sideways on, fractured. Bodies meet and respond, transform and re-invent movement, quit the stage in arbitrary fashion. The soundtrack bangs on as the dancers develop or repeat ideas – the varied responses, the elaborations of hip-hop vernacular a constant fascination. Ideas are taken to extremes as hip-hop gains fresh impulses. Pauses happen. The lighting is reduced to a skied and ungenerous lamp that fails to illuminate. And the dance – disparate, vivid, given vicious and short-breathed life, ever-expressive – flares and sulks and drags itself over the stage, a memory, a statement. Austerity rules, with nothing but dance, and hip-hop as argot, as aspect of personality, shown to us at its most essential and most allusive – and most louche.

A final dazzling burst of tricks happens at curtain-fall as the dancers relax, show off, and spin, twist, miraculously embroider the predictabilities of their style. Artistry and skill are true, significant. An evening suggesting that much of the other new theatre-dance we see today is contrived, affected, self-obsessed, vulgar.

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