Mentor Kerry Nicholls has overseen a strong collection of works for this year’s Refresh. In keeping with the tradition, music suggestions from prominent choreographers were thrown into a lucky dip, from which another batch of choreographers drew and based their work with the six youth dance companies involved. Intervals between performances were filled with interview footage of the music selectors, musing on their own development and extolling the virtues of dance as a language in itself – inspiration for young, emerging dance artists.

First up was Nicholls’ own work with Shift, The Place’s youth dance company, entitled The Falling Room. It was a strong opening for this group of twenty-one dancers, distinguished by geometric composition in a lattice structure and effective use of synchronicity. Encounters occurred in duets and trios, with nicely calculated lifts and descents, extended limbs and articulated joints, firmly punctuated rhythms. With no infusion of conceptual content, this was a purely aesthetic response to the sound score by David Walters, but there was nothing lacking for this, it was a solidly realized piece.

In the program notes, Lucy Crowe admits to the challenge fate dealt her with Phillip Feeney’s Code: music dominated by choppy, rhythmic jazz piano and a primal, chugging feel. The group took it on quite daringly, with an interpretation of ‘threat’ that involved tattoos and wild hair, some impressive groundwork, capoiera-inspired contortions and spins, and a sporadic collective shout. There were rapid shifts in pacing between small, fast phrases and slow-melting pauses, giving a garbled and edgy feel. Aesthetically, they were heading toward a coherent response but didn’t quite arrive at a point of final refinement; the performers were too wonderfully rounded and human to convey a genuine sense of threat.

ENB YouthCo’s Tribe had a subtler vision, appropriate to the electronic music by Flying Lotus, chosen by hip-hopper Jonzi D. The bird-or-insect-like embodiment was nicely echoed by faint birdsong early in the piece before the sound took on further layers of electronic complexity. Ensemble configurations were of the essence, with the group starting in unison and then breaking up to find fleeting duets and trios. Exits and entrances were constant and inventive, engagements building and dispersing rapidly throughout. But the overall character of the piece was subtle, and the bland costumes did little to counter this. Nonetheless, the overall trajectory of spatial dynamics had a pleasingly fractal feel of organised chaos, and this was beautifully resolved in the stray, single figure of the ending.

A winning jocularity was brought to the lineup with Again and Again, Fuzzy Logic’s response to Bawren Tavaziva’s original composition, under Zoie Golding’s choreography and theatrical vision. The all-male cast of seven was the smallest of the evening but made up for it with their bright waistcoats, robust and rounded moves, and leapfrog-style lifts and flips. There was also deft work with slippery props. The piece began with a short sequence of grounded partnerwork before the surprise arrival of the group’s final member, who emerged suddenly, disgruntled, front-and-centre stage, from under a pile of orange plastic bags. This led to the unpacking of further bags in a grid formation, the bags acting as stepping stones for a sequence that spoke of fixation and safety. Then followed a hyperreal segment depicting the extreme responses to a newly opened letter. The final image was of cut-out letters hung on a string and held between two dancers as the others puzzled over them in quasi-simian drollery, the final choice teased out being OCD. It was a fun ending to a piece that explored our twitchy and fractious side, but embedded in plenty of warmth, curiosity and humour.

Quicksilver’s The Disappearance of Elsie May carried on the concern with the human mind, but with a pastel costume palette and lightfooted, hushed-and-muted feel, which was apposite to choreographer Laura Harvey’s choice of theme: dementia. The choreographic response here moved in sensitive relationship to the sound score Theory of Machines by Ben Frost, with its building layers and cadences which ranged from serene to rasping and severe. Again, ensemble composition was significant, beginning in symmetry and fragmenting significantly, with duets and trios to follow. An overall sense of distance yet poignancy was admirably achieved, culminating in an exquisite ending of symmetrical mirroring between two female dancers. The absence of drama and sentimentality were powerful as one dancer succumbed to internal withdrawal, and the other, not succeeding in coaxing her out, backed off and moved away.

Drawing the night to a nicely swaggering conclusion was The Beauty Within, by Sia Gbamoi, Dani Harris-Walters and PPL Dance Company, whose fortunes were set by Goomba Boomba, a mambo now twenty-five years old. The poetic prelude to the music was charming and natural, as the group’s lounging and daydreaming gave way to distorted mannerisms, chatter, bopping heads and shoulders. Then they swung into movement that was not at all mambo but had something of its sinuosity and torso-driven style, with undulations and grounded hips. Grotesque imagery was well engendered by wobbling necks and a technique of rapid and repeated freeze and release in the lines of movement, which provided a stroboscopic effect. This darkness was perfectly judged beneath the music’s buoyant pulse.

Aesthetically this was the most pronounced and successful of the night’s shows, demonstrating the rich possibility that exists when random elements meet in the melting pot that is Refresh.