Sadler's Wells Sampled, Sadler's Wells, London

The winners of an internet competition were the undisputed stars of this taster weekend
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The Independent Culture

To risk stating the obvious, in a theatre the energy comes from the front. Yes, of course it comes from what's happening on stage, but it also emanates from the public who sit closest.

In most cases sitting at the front involves paying top price, hence the fug of ennui many shows have to fight. At a Sadler's Wells prom event, by contrast, the folk milling about at the front have shelled out the least – just £5. They're even prepared to remain on their feet for an hour and a half for the privilege and, boy, their enthusiasm is catching.

Sadler's Wells Sampled is democratic in other ways too. Now in its fourth edition, it's a weekend designed to win first-timers to dance by offering a taster menu of styles. This year's samples included modern, hip hop, Latin American and ballet, extracts from shows to be seen at the Wells in coming months. The line-up also included the winner of its inaugural online global choreographic contest, itself a democratic enterprise in that anyone, from anywhere, could enter.

Voted by the public via YouTube, it was also anyone's guess what might win, and it's my bet artistic director Alistair Spalding sent up a small prayer of thanks when he learnt that the worst of it was that he was going to have to stump up for 13 return flights from Taiwan. The winning entry (see it at screen) also had the advantage of being able to fill a large stage (not a quality guaranteed among entries that reportedly ranged from classical solos to dodgy bedroom experiments), and brought genuine novelty to an art form awash with imitation. OK, so [1875] Ravel and Bolero could have done with a better title, and perhaps that great machine-age orchestral rant has been fingered by plenty of choreographers before. Visually, though, Shu-Yi Chou's concept was as fresh as a new dawn. Better still, it made me laugh.

On a stage carpeted with green tickets (granted, a touch Pina Bausch-ish), the 12 dancers line up as if for a photo. As they stare into the imaginary lens (an electric fan), their smiles turn to stone and terror takes hold. Some grab their stomachs in pain. Others scream and clutch the air, before sinking sickeningly to their knees and on to their faces. Ah, you think, bracing yourself, it's going to be one of those agonised oriental pieces about life, death and the A-bomb. Once prone, though, one of the girls lets out a giggle. The dozen struggle to their feet again, pose, and collapse again, each time with more open hilarity, until you realise that the joke is on you, as the youthful energy channels into a whooping free-form conga, spilling off the stage and into the auditorium. The fan never whips up the storm you expect, either.

Of the rest of the bill, only one extract earned the same volume of cheering: the Parisian b-boy outfit, Phase T, whose head-skids, one-armed handstand bounces and spinal spins took breakdance to new levels of I-don't-believe-I'm-seeing-this. For all its sexed-up wiggling and cheerful live band, Havana Rakatan looked cheesy by comparison, and the two ballet duets unhappily marooned on a bare stage with bad taped music.

Next Week :

Jenny Gilbert looks for the paradisal in God's Garden, a touring show by Arthur Pita