Crystal Pite's 'Polaris'  Photo © Chris Randle

Crystal Pite’s ‘Polaris’
Photo © Chris Randle

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK;  October 31, 2014

Maggie Foyer

The Sadler’s Wells Composer Series, launched in 2011, is a great idea and when the composer in question is Thomas Adès, things don’t get much better. This programme comprised four works by emerging and established choreographers, four diverse compositions from Adès and climaxed on Crystal Pite’s “Polaris”, to Adès epic of the same name.

“Polaris” embodied the evening’s subtitle in a visualisation of the power and sweep of the music creating landscapes of seething humanity. Pite used a cast of 64, six of her own dancers combined with students from the London Contemporary Dance School and Central School of Ballet. She shaped the black-clad ensemble into an organic mass that ebbed and flowed, punctuated by bursts of succinct creativity from her soloists. At one thrilling moment the broad sweep of movement focused down on a stage full of immobile dancers save for the finely crafted detail of tremulous index fingers making contact with the floor. Adès, who was conducting, has always expressed an interest in dance and he must have warmed to the sight of Pite’s imaginative interpretation of his score.

Wayne McGregor’s “Outlier” to the fiendishly challenging “Concentric Paths”, opened the evening and was performed by his Random Dance with Thomas Gould in excellent form on violin. Written for New York City Ballet in 2010 the work seemed an odd fit on his dancers. The choreography, strangely sterile, adopted much of the traditional ballet form but without the creative ease that comes from a deep understanding of the possibilities inherent in the technique. Structurally McGregor has an intrinsic feel for the space and the moment and he introduced a strong design element (together with lighting designer Lucy Carter). However these strengths served only to highlight the limitations in the movement.

Sandwiched in the middle were two contrasting works. Karole Armitage’s “Life Story” is a laconic take on a casual sexual encounter. Adès at the piano accompanying dramatic soprano, Claire Booth, joined the two dancers, Emily Wagner and Ruka Hatua-Saar, on stage. Hatua-Saar, a big man with a thoroughly laidback air and Wagner, ginger bunches and an edgy manner, made a decidedly odd couple. You wondered how they managed to team up in the first place and at times they seemed to be wondering much the same thing. But the result is a deliciously witty off-beat duo that constantly surprises.

Alexander Whitely is the newest choreographic name on the bill and he delivered a work of impressive invention and considerable beauty. His concept, “The Grit in the Oyster”, was the inspiration for a trio of dancers; himself, Jessica Andrenacci and Antonette Dayrit. As the sole male he became something of a catalyst and occasionally the irritant to add a dash of spice to the mix.

Whitely’s work also had the musicians on stage, including Adès back at the piano, for his “Piano Quintet”. Whitely works adeptly with the intricacies of the score, at times in harmony and at other times finding his own path. Evenings of such quality and multiplicity are rare – but what a treat.