Sadler’s Wells Global Gala reminds us what we are missing

December 5, 2020

David Mead

As this difficult year for artists, audiences, and organisations everywhere draws to a close, Sadler’s Wells hosted a Global Gala (available on YouTube until December 31), a virtual fundraising event but also a celebration of dance, made possible with support from Italian fashion house Bottega Veneta and its creative director Daniel Lee.

The two best moments of the 50-minute event both come courtesy of William Forysthe. After a few words from Fiona Shaw (most recently of Killing Eve fame), by far the best speaker on the show, a 70-second film of him on a Vermont hillside attempting to catch snowflakes with a bucket (yes, really!) provides the one moment of light relief in the show. The message about how artists have had to adapt and how “One artist previously a choreographer toils in the frozen wilderness seeking against all the odds to once again contribute to the processes of civilization” is very serious, but it is so brilliantly done, I defy you not to smile.

Tiler Peck in Buzzard and Kestrel by William ForsytheScreenshot from film
Tiler Peck in Buzzard and Kestrel by William Forsythe
Screenshot from film

Even better is the world premiere of Forsythe’s Buzzard and Kestrel. Part of a new series called The Barre Project, it features New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck, alongside Lex Ishimoto and Roman Mejia dancing individually then together on and just in front of a ballet barre. Always pushed along by James Blake’s music of the same title, the perky, fast-moving choreography is a feast of sharp turns and fast footwork. Moments of grace sit easily alongside more accented almost twitching movements that do indeed suggest birds. All three dancers are a treat to watch, especially the slinky Peck. At just six minutes, it’s the longest dance of the streaming, but left you wanting much more.

Equally appealing is Ben Williams’ film A year like no other, that features Russell Maliphant’s work this year with the National Youth Dance Company. It is uplifting to see how the young dancers still got so much from the project and were still able to perform on the Sadler’s Wells main stage, albeit only to friends and family. The choreography itself is highly appealing too, with much of Maliphant’s trademark playing with light and shadow. It would be nice to think the 2020 company could reform and dance it to a full house sometime.

Jason Kittelberger and Natalia Osipova in Once Withscreenshot from film
Jason Kittelberger and Natalia Osipova in Once With
Screenshot from film

I also enjoyed Once With, a short new work choreographed especially for the event by Jason Kittelberger, and performed by him and Royal Ballet principal, Natalia Osipova to the second of Jean Sibelius’s 13 Pieces for Piano. The arrangement for cello and classical guitar evokes thoughts of sadness, happiness, love, passion, loneliness, anxiety, peace, relaxation. So does the dance, much of which floats as if taking place on top of a cloud.

There’s more film of live dance with the 3-minute duet Fields Of Gold, Kate Prince and Sting’s Message In A Bottle, performed by two of the original company Nafisah Baba and Lukas McFarlane. A touching dance about memories of happier times, it is excellently performed and certainly has feeling, but comes across as a tad soppy.

The Wine Dance, a new hip hop dance theatre film featuring Britain’s Got Talent 2020 break-dancer and magician Magical Bones left me very cool.

Gisella Galeassi and German Cornejo in Moving Through a PandemicScreenshot from film
Gisella Galeassi and German Cornejo in Moving Through a Pandemic
Screenshot from film

Two films followed the now well-worn path of weaving together multiple dancers in different locations, constantly cutting between them. More appealing of the two is Moving Through a Pandemic, a Sadler’s Wells Digital Stage film that shows dancers around the world responding to the pandemic. Although the locations are very different, each has a distinct sense of space, whether the Kansas City rooftop of Angyil McNeal, Matthew Ball on the Southbank Thames-side, La Chana in an open space in Barcelona, Gregory Maqoma in Johannesburg or the very compact Buenos Aries balcony of German Cornejo and Gisella Galeassi, who prove you can squeeze in some super tango anywhere.

The other, Around the World by Jonzi D features Alesandra Seutin of London’s Vocab Dance, Soweto Skeleton Movers, Huang Li-chieh of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and American Ballet Theatre’s James Whiteside in a hip hop inspired collage to music from Soweto Kinch. It fares less well, although again does serve to emphasise the international nature of dance and Sadler’s Wells.

Elsewhere there were sketches with Carlos Acosta, showing us his salsa in a studio; Sylvie Guillem, collecting olives up a tree then making olive oil; Akram Kham demonstrating his mixed martial arts training and letting his daughter (who steals the scene completely) win a bout; and Hofesh Shechter showing us how to make tahini in his kitchen. The latter especially overstays its welcome.

While there are some impressive dance highlights, pieces that I would love to see live sometime, the term ‘gala’ is stretching it rather. Anyone expecting end to end dance will be disappointed. Take out the talk, of which there is a lot, and the end credits, which run for over four minutes, and you’ve lost a fair chunk of time. But then, the show is very unashamedly about raising money for the venue. The many comments from Sadler’s Wells associate artists, ambassadors and friends about how much they love the theatre and how difficult life is now, exhortations to donate, spoken and via a constantly popping up ticker across the bottom of the screen, all combine to give it the feeling of a telethon, but minus the usual fun element. It is important to keep celebrating and promoting dance at this difficult time, but it does sometimes feel overdone.

Sadler’s Wells Global Gala is free to watch online via Sadler’s Wells YouTube channel until January 5, 2021.