The National Youth Dance Company was founded in 2012 to nurture young dance talent ( 16 to 19 years old ) from diverse backgrounds. Each year, through open auditions, 30 new members are selected to create a performance under an rotating guest director. This year's is the much acclaimed Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, incoming Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet of Flanders , choreographer and director of Eastman, and a Sadler's Wells Associate Artist. To be a member of the company involves dedication, for rehearsals may last eight or nine hours. 

Frame[d] was an ensemble work in which the individuality of a dancer was always a contribution to the whole. The group is larger than any contemporary dance company, so Cherkaoui had to devise material which would be strengthened by numbers. He chose from his own repertoire: Babel (2010) about myth; TeZuka (2011) inspired by Japanese manga artist Osamu Tezuka; Puz/zle (2013) about the seeming importance of order; and Loin (2005) a crossroads of different contemporary dance styles.

One of the exciting aspects of reworking his own compositions was the vast range of music Cherkaoui could mobilize. For example, Babel moved to hindu rhythms from the brothers Khan, Kodo drumming by Shogo Yoshii and medieval music by Gabriele Miracle and Patrizia Bovi; Puz/zle called upon a Corsican polyphonic group, Lebanese singer, Fadia Tomb El-Hage, and Japanese musician, Kazunari Abe. There was also a humourous soundscape created from the vocalisations of the NYDC giving an orderly and 'linear' scientific discourse on Motor Neurons.

NYDC rehearsals © Gigi Giannella
NYDC rehearsals
© Gigi Giannella
Sculptor Antony Gormley designed the set of five giant box frames for Babel. Having appropriated this set, the dancers constantly moved the box frames into sculptures. These frames could be up-ended, rotated, stacked and placed within one another. Any figures standing within the box-space would be foregrounded. At one moment, it was inhabited by a dancer in a Buddhist lotus position.

What do you do with so many dancers? Cherkaoui, with perfection, moved them together rhythmically; he used them serially, as if producing the domino effect. He had them writhing on the floor and in heaps. And he accented the work with 'rounds' of movement - each in turn - and individual moments of solo choreography.

Another theme of the evening was the notion of 'connecting'. This was illustrated during a beautiful pas de deux which began with the male dancer walking his fingers up the arm and over the face of the female dancer opposite him. One of the techniques used effectively in this choreography was isolation of movement. In another moment, towards the climax, three men danced without relinquishing their grips on one another's arms, even though two were on the floor held by a standing third, the imagery suggestive of the religious iconography of the triangle. 'Connecting' implied that the performers were parts of one whole work. It was almost a single meditation by many. Although individually the dancers did extraordinary things, no one broke the dynamic of the whole. The sense of choreographic design had to exist in the performers' heads, as well as in the choreographer's. This was a stunning accomplishment. In the end, we had a human Tower of Babel, but one in which diversity led to solidity.

The performance was technically strong and emotionally moving, and the dancers had a deep understanding of its compositional aesthetics. Some of them will become future choreographers and performers. The evening demonstrated that working with many can allow expression beyond the reach of one dancer. The evening made me think that perhaps, the ancient Greek choruses were not incidental to single characters like Agamemnon, but rather the main thrust of the drama. The ancient choruses danced and chanted, but we do not know the nature of the choreography.

The director for next year's performance will be Michael Keegan-Dolan.