Words by Katie Hagan. Performed 19/07/19 Sadler’s Wells, London.
Not often do you see a performance so visionary that you wonder how on earth you are going to translate its impact into words. MADHEAD, the paradigmatic brainchild of an exceptional collaboration between Botis Seva, his company Far from the Norm and the National Youth Dance Company (NYDC), is one of them.
Finishing an acclaimed national tour at Sadler’s Wells, MADHEAD is a cool, progressive piece of dance explicating generational divides and misconceptions about young people. Whilst the choreography is rightly aggressive – MADHEAD is the young body’s defiant response to being stereotyped – the choreography is also steadfast and sagacious, the complete antithesis to how the older generation perceives today’s youth. Combined with the unyielding stamina of NYDC’s talented 38 dancers, MADHEAD is proof that those who judge young people are wrong.
There are three sections, the first with dancers scurrying along the floor to indicate the old ‘rat race’ way of living. There’s heavy war imagery, with walking sticks for rifles. Tight, regimented body isolations mirror boot camp exercises. This is gritty choreography from the earth, with dancers kneeled down to the floor standing on the balls of their feet, scuttering forward and back with a piercing precision.
With good flow between each piece – great work considering MADHEAD jumps from one generation to another – the second and third tell stories about misconception, loss and gang culture.
Seva’s movement vocabulary is idiosyncratic, as we have seen in his work with Far from the Norm. Yet the involvement of 38 young dancers in MADHEAD stretches his vocabulary. There’s hip-hop, bits of break, some krump, afro, the iconic moonwalk and rifts on the classic Cameo ‘Candy’ dance.
But there are also little odes to the movement which today’s young people follow on social media. There’s the gun lean and shoot dance famed by the social media phenomenon: memes. Unless the kids have shown memes to their parents (I’ve done that and it doesn’t work), then in MADHEAD they create and claim this secret, codified movement which is completely of their time and their own.
Improvisations are interspersed within the piece, integrated like snippets of a life they only share with themselves. MADHEAD’s accompanying soundtrack by Torben Lars Sylvest is a sampling oasis; layering and re-appropriating thumping beats, Trump’s speeches, a bit of Bob Marley and extra-terrestrial-like hums and white noises.
The final piece focuses more on gang culture, with many bodies moving like one in a fierce battle against a rival. Not only does this part ask us to not make assumptions, it tells us we need to have faith and not condemn or criticise. It also serves as a poignant indicator of how dance inspires young people; it gives them a focus and gets them away from becoming somebody they are not.
At the end the wobbling, sulky head symbolising the older generation returns, perhaps showcasing that life goes full circle. But maybe it poses the question of why we can be afraid of so many beautiful differences when we all end up as dust.
This doesn’t dilute the forthrightness of MADHEAD but gives another texture to the story; as did the tender moment where a boy and a girl embraced after scenes of anarchy and unrest.
Although there are a few too many pauses in between the pulsing choreography in the first piece, the dancers did well to maintain the tense energy in these moments of silence. In fact the energy in the whole piece is unrelenting and contagious.
Like a stone dropped into water, MADHEAD’s influence will reach far and wide. Even though there is much to fear in the world, there is a bright future in the talent and stories of the 38 dancers who graced Sadler’s Wells stage.
Header image: Tony Nandi.