Sadler's Wells Sampled is a dance compilation, packing a range of the dance theatre's programming into a single evening. Seats are cheap, standing places cheaper; now in its fourth year, it's a sell-out show. This time, Sampled had a weaker line-up, less glamorous and varied than in previous years. It was lifted by the theatre's latest initiative, the Global Dance Contest. The theatre's shiny new toy provided one of the strongest elements in this programme.
This web-based contest asks competitors to upload their dance videos to YouTube. A panel of judges, including choreographer Arlene Phillips and Sadler's Wells artistic director Alistair Spalding, chose a shortlist; the public voted for the winner. This really has been a global contest, with entries from Nigeria, Venezuela and China and a winner from Taiwan. Entries are now being taken for the competition's second year.
The winning work, by 26-year-old Taiwanese choreographer Shu-Yi Chou, is a dance theatre piece. Pina Bausch is an obvious influence on his (1875) Ravel and Bolero. As Bausch often did, Chou carpets the stage, this time with scraps of green paper, like leaves. The dancers run and scream and make trips into the audience. Yet Chou's work is distinctive, not least because it's funny.
His 12 dancers stand grouped on their green carpet, before screaming and falling. Then they pick themselves up, scream and fall again. As they repeat the exercise, they get giggly. They're like people at a fairground, squealing on a rollercoaster then rushing back for another go. Some are more eager than others, bouncing back into place.
Once they've got over the scream-and-fall game, they try others. One blissed-out woman stands upstage, beaming at the audience. She ignores the others as they march up to her, one by one, squeaking or shouting in her ear. As a team, the cast run in lines, or break into flailing solos to Ravel's Bolero.
Chou moves easily from one scene to the next, his pacing assured. The whole piece is lively and well-focused, with bouncy performances. The designs are handsome, too: different patterned costumes in rusty shades of red and orange. It's a confident start to the four-year competition.
In past years, Sampled has shown off some of the biggest shows of the forthcoming season. This year's line-up was more subdued. The audience did coo happily at its first sight of a tutu, worn by Birmingham Royal Ballet's Jenna Roberts in the pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty. Roberts, and her partner, Joseph Caley, gave a strained performance, looking uncomfortable with the taped music and bare stage.
The cast of Havana Rakatan made an exuberant finale, with salsa rhythms and lots of swagger. Better yet, they brought their own band – the first live music of the evening, adding an instant buzz. The dancers swivel their hips, swaying and shimmying through different Cuban dance styles.