Sadler’s Wells, London
November 27, 2018
This must be a composer’s dream: to have your music brought to life on stage in a work of such imagination and invention. Nitin Sawhney’s Dystopian Dream is a vibrant collaboration of dance, music, song and visuals but it is in the voice of Eva Stone that it finds its heart.
In 2015 Sawhney released his album as a response to the death of his father and it developed into a sort of Momento Mori searching into our relationship with loss and continuity. The 15 tracks, with their many shifts in emotion, form the bedrock for a magical evening. The staging is the brainchild of award-winning duo Wang Ramirez, each bringing their distinctive dance style to the mix.
Eva Stone is a singer, but she moves with the dancers as to the manner born. Her voice, with its slight grainy edge is thrilling and capable of conjuring a world of dreams. Her quiet presence makes the perfect foil to the two dancers: Sébastien Ramirez, equally at home on the ground or in the air and Honji Wang with her fluid exploration of movement.
The set is a playground for the dancers’ unique talents. It features a staircase leading heavenward and a split-level stage with a sloping surface between. Ramirez has a movement quality that defies gravity in miraculous fashion and this even when he is not in harness and walking sideways across the backdrop. Wang remains more earthbound moving easily between levels, her style sinuous and elegant.
Although fewer of us believe in a binary afterlife of heaven and hell, the many projections and ingenious lighting effects evoke each of these states. The aerial scenes of floating and flying are by turns nightmarish and ethereal, dark shadows and monstrous shapes chase across the backdrop alternating with lighting states of otherworldly beauty. At times it becomes excessive, threatening to overwhelm Sawhney’s score with artifice and illusion. There is greater cohesion in the final sections where Sawhney introduces for the first time the staccato sounds of kathak rhythms and the mood deepens. In a gentle trio, the three performers come together to share both the space and their emotions and in a transcendent closing moment, as the stage darkens, Stone floats up to heaven.