Review: Flirt with Reality at Sadler's Wells
Even after several years watching, and writing about, “alternative entertainment”, I can still be surprised. With all those evenings watching performers defy physics, human beings defy the body’s limitations (I’m talking being suspended mid-air, balancing just on the back of your head, on fire and spinning. Seriously, I’ve seen that) and whole new beings created through the art of make-up and costume, and yet there are things I have never seen.
Flirt with Reality by Dutch dance troupe Another Kind of Blue was one example. Wholly original, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before. Choreographer David Middendorp has taken it upon himself to mix modern dance with technology, and the result is totally unique. Reaching new levels of fame as finalists on Britain’s Got Talent, the troupe came to Sadler’s Wells this July for a limited run at Sadler’s Wells, and VBO was lucky enough to snag a ticket.
The whole show consists of five pieces which collectively pose the question: “what is reality and how can it be influenced by technology?” It opens with “Airman”, a breathtaking piece featuring a man dancing with twelve drones. Yup, you heard that correctly- the man dances with twelve drones. The machines swarm and move like fish or insects, interacting with the dancer (Klevis Elmazaj), eventually mimicking his form and movement. Honestly, it’s magical – I was stunned at how closely these tiny machines can imitate the human body.
The next piece, “Flyland in a Room” continues the innovation, following a couple coming towards the end of their relationship. As we follow them through the heartbreak, sorrow, and passion of this moment, we see them literally falling through clouds of memory. Here, choreographer Middendorp uses projections on the backdrop of the stage, combined with cameras following the dancers from above, for a truly 3D experience which blends the real and the digital. I loved this piece – poetic and emotional, the use of technology enhanced the dance, rather than distracting from it.
However… once we have seen this clever use of aerial photography, its presence in the other dance pieces meant it lost its novelty slightly. In “As It Appears”, not only does the videography make a reappearance, but it is mixed with graphics which can border on the cheesy, and a far too-obvious story line (man falls in love with a woman in a painting and tries to follow her there).
“Blue Journey” again plays with these often almost-cheesy graphics, but it is saved by excellent musical choices – in this case, Radiohead’s “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” – a strong feature throughout the show and one which adds some much-needed edge.
The most unusual, and enjoyable bit of the performance for me was a fantastic performance by tabla player, Niti Ranjan Biswas. Brought on to explain a little history behind tabla drums, he was later wheeled on stage for the culminating piece of the show: “Game Engine”. Inspired by the origin of the computer, the piece involves all of the troupe’s dancers. Together, they construct a simple version of one on-stage, encountering obstacles in an increasingly fast flow of on and off switches. Featuring more of the aerial filming, the piece has – in my opinion – the best choreography of the five. The dancers’ sharp, precise movements are perfectly in sync, moving like cogs and pistons in a machine, though the overall pacing lagged at times.
Throughout the evening, we were also treated to small videos introducing the dancers and getting their takes on the piece – a welcome innovation in the world of contemporary dance, which can too often feel exclusive and standoffish. I only wish we had also had the opportunity to “meet” the choreographer, to get some insights into the way he had created his dances.
Intriguing, original and highly entertaining, Another Kind of Blue may still have some tweaks to make to Flirt with Reality, but overall it was a brilliant evening. Most importantly, however: the audience clearly loved it. There was a standing ovation at the end, and the Peacock Theatre was packed, even on a Tuesday night. Which tells you all you need to know, really.
Flirt with Reality is on at Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre until 14. July and then will be touring the Netherlands from November 2019.