For at least a decade, street dance has permeated contemporary dance as much as jazz dance did in the 1980s, whether as the go-to idiom for a generation, a physical technique, an artistic resource, or simply a look. BDblaq Dance’s Cool Breeze is purportedly set in an 80s pub, but apart from jumpsuits, braces, a glimpse of cigarette and a hanging placard that spells out “80s vibe”, the piece is all 21st century, right down to the street dnace style and the hipster bar that forms its backdrop. There’s a story of sorts, four characters out for a night on the tiles, two women flirting with each other, two men acting up. But mainly it’s a lightweight but fun excuse for everyone to shine and show off a little, full of sleek moves, snappy formations and buoyant energy. Ah, youth.
Viki Čerček’s LEADS: Nature vs Culture also draws on street dance, but moulds it into a more personal, exploratory medium. Driven by live music from clarinettist William Legares playing to a recorded jazz score – a freewheeling rush of runs and squeals, jumpy riffs and rattling rhythms – Čerček, Sasha Shadid and Elsabet Yonas transfigure the jolting dynamics of krump into an affecting trio of fractious interactions: clasps and catches, scrabbles and freezes. It doesn’t quite sustain its own length, but this is nevertheless a fascinating extension of a particular style.
Sandwiched between these street-influenced pieces, Wilhelmina Ojanen’s common ground has a more familiar “contemporary dance” feel, drawing on natural movement, task-based ideas and improvisation techniques. Essentially a compositional study of group dynamics, the choreography sets four dancers adrift across the stage and allows different interactions to form: here a sense of impediment, one dancer blocked and grounded by the others; there of assistance, the performers gently guiding each other forward, or using their bodies as bridges; elsewhere of clinging together, hands grasping hands as the dancers are flung into unstable spirals. It’s a slow build, but in the end achieves an eerie poetry.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the evening is BDblaq Dance, who blaze on with swagger. A swirly-written sign, announcing ‘80s Vibe’, hangs above a projection of a (frankly too noughties) bar. Two men and two women in button-down shirts, braces and high-waisted trousers strut in, peacocking their body-popping. The performers are fizzy and alive, necking drinks and pulling poses with skilled lyricism. Fun hip hop commences: snapshots of a lively Friday night on the razz. The dancers audibly cheer, whistle and chat each other up. Their sharp energy and momentum is infectious: transporting us back to the more socially-connected pleasures of yesteryear. Their unison is styled with flare and charisma. A cohesive team, each with their own individual personas and micro-stories; it’s a joy to witness their comedic encounters.
Wilhelmina Ojanen’s common ground hits a more sombre tone. A Scandi, T-shirt clad foursome navigate a journey backwards in slow motion, as if moving in water. They turn to face us eventually and lead one another, childlike, in loose Farandole lines. Something dark haunts them - they clamber away from an unspecified danger. They stand together in a tight tangle; a jumble of limbs and heads pushing and pulling; holding each other back with arm locks. Weary, they breathily struggle between division and cohesion. The visual dynamic of this repeated device is restrictive and underwhelming.
The performers in Viki Čerček’s LEADS: Nature VS Culture suffer a series of shocks, articulated with frenetic shakes from core to extremity, their hands over their eyes. A musician - a powerful, spot-lit presence at the back of the stage - stares down the dancers, manipulating their movements with his soulful jazz. Dressed in block colours (one in turquoise, one in red, one in beige) they absorb the staccato electricity of the musical phrases and let it writhe through them. Whipped up in sudden power surges, fingers clasp their clothing and each other in messy embraces. Whilst the energy is enticing, more choreographic structure and musical interaction would increase the voltage.