The Guardian

Step changes

Sarah Crompton

Seeta Patel Dance: The Rite of Spring

Sadler’s Wells, London EC1

Turn It Out With Tiler Peck & Friends

Sadler’s Wells, London EC1

How do you honour classical dance technique while making it seem relevant and fresh? That’s the question asked in different ways by the British Asian choreographer Seeta Patel and American dancer Tiler Peck – both dazzling performers looking to expand their range.

Patel’s dance language is the south Indian tradition of bharatanatyam. In her solo Shree, you see its mixture of delicate hand movements and rhythmic footwork, the way it mingles storytelling and abstraction. But it’s her version of The Rite of Spring for 12 dancers that provides the heart of the programme.

With the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra providing an explosive live version of Stravinsky’s score, Patel shapes the intricacies of the technique – usually a solo form – into waves and groups of movement. The dancers, in soft lilacs, fawns and pinks, surge forward, their heels beating the rhythm on the floor, their arms raised into curved shapes, fingers picking out the notes.

Against Warren Letton’s sumptuous lighting, in the bright colours of sunrise and sunset, they ebb and flow in perfect response to the surging score, sometimes fierce, sometimes lyrical, sometimes turning with fizzing speed, sometimes abruptly leaping. At moments, they form a line across the stage like a frieze, conjuring both Nijinksy’s original choreography and Patel’s new insights into it. A chosen maiden becomes a man who becomes a god, bringing renewal. It is beautiful, intelligent and exciting.

New York City Ballet star Peck has long been a phenomenon, a prodigious dancer who achieved megawattage in lockdown with Turn It Out With Tiler Peck, her daily dance class. In the flesh she is a revelation, strong and speedy, music flowing through her body like a visible thing. She is a generous dancer, a lover of tap and musicals as well as ballet, and this is a generous bill – four works, live music and some wonderful dancers.

It’s powered by a desire to communicate, to share the joy of ballet. It opens quietly with the elegant Thousandth Orange, choreographed by Peck, and Alonzo King’s Swift Arrow, a spiky duet for Peck and Roman Mejia. It ends air-punchingly with William Forsythe’s masterly The Barre Project (Blake Works II), to the music of James Blake.

Originally seen online, and created for Peck and the equally sensational Lex Ishimoto, Brooklyn Mack and Mejia, the piece crackles with energy and pleasure, shaped by the contrasts between the casual move into steps and their sharp execution, the modulation of movement from soft to powerful, fast to slow. Peck beguiles with off-centre balances and turning stops so hard you can hear the screech.

In Time Spell, Peck and the classical dancers are joined by tap maestra Michelle Dorrance, choreographer Jillian Meyers and improvisatory singers Aaron Marcellus and Penelope Wendtlandt in a glorious collision of tap and ballet, two forms that don’t talk easily but here mesh with uplifting inventiveness.

Dorrance’s complex beats and soft-shoe swooshing form the soundtrack for variations in pointe shoes; Meyer’s easy groundedness is the counterpoint for more balletic jumps. Skat steps and pirouettes unfold side by side. It’s happy proof that Peck – smiling broadly as she steps on to the tap board in her pointe shoes for a duet with Dorrance – is on to something when she says ballet is more than tutus and tiaras.

Critics Theatre