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Dance review: Compagnie DCA Philippe Decoufle, Contact, Sadler’s Wells

Contact image Bettina Strenske

Philippe Decouflé is the French theatrical magician who has previously brought to life an encyclopedia of imaginary animals (in Codex/Tricodex), delved into the secret life of shadows (Sombrero), and created the delightfully bonkers opening ceremony for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville. His works are hard to classify, straddling the boundaries between dance, cabaret, comedy and contemporary theatre with a healthy dash of stage artifice and visual trickery.Contact, a show about sixteen performers putting on a very loose adaptation of Faust, is no different in this regard – a melange of skits, spectacle and silliness sprinkled with moments of genuinely breathtaking beauty.

Contact opens with a fluid solo for dancer Eric Martin. Dressed in a spangled tailsuit and coiffed to look just like Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Martin glides bonelessly across the forestage with a sliding variation that’s equal parts Broadway jazz and the new streetdance style of floating. As other company members filter in behind him, the pulsing sounds played live by musicians Nosfell and Pierre Le Bosfell ramp up from sparse synth percussion to a richer full-bodied soundtrack.

Contact makes mesmerising use of its cast’s many talents. Julien Ferrantishows himself to be as adapt with a countertenor vibrato as he is dancing the lindy hop; Violette Wanty joins circus-trainedSuzanne Soler for an aerial duet on bungee chords; and the exotically limber Sean Patrick Mombrunowinds himself athletically into a small box as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Lines between disciplines are blurred; musicians join in sections of dance, dancers erupt into song, and everyone is swept into the comic dialogue between the refreshingly older performers Stéphane Chivot andChristophe Salengro.

Decouflé has a similarly boundary-blurring approach to movement, with nods toMGM musicals, lively partner dance and Bauschian parade all in the choreographic blender. A lengthy dance-battle sequence recalls West Side Story; a thrilling corde lisse solo for Soler finds the acrobat whipped around at terrifying speeds (for me; clearly Soler herself has no fear). Dance scenes are frequently accompanied by live-captured video effects designed by Olivier Simola; the live action onstage is blown up onto the back wall, looped, inverted and fractured into kaleidoscopic effects that recall Busby Berkeley’s bathers in glorious technicolor.

If there’s a criticism to be made about Contact, it’s that the loose narrative of a troupe performing a strangely modified version of Faust isn’t coherent enough to frame the work effectively, and towards the comic vignettes occasionally distract from the otherwise hypnotic dance sequences. There’s a definite drop in energy towards the end as well, with the last twenty minutes feeling decidedly saggy; a sequence articulating a mathematical proof of God suffers either from sound problems or lack of rehearsal, as the unison is less taut here than elsewhere in the show for both speakers and dancers.

Overall, however, Contact is as full of strange delights as the company’s previous outings. Bizarre, otherworldly and beautiful – in other words, business as usual for the Gallic maverick.

http://www.sadlerswells.com

Originally published at londondance.com

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June 18, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Dance Review: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Ahnen, Sadler’s Wells

Image: Bettina Strenske

Tanztheater Wuppertal has a notably devoted following and, to some extent, viewers will already know what to expect from a Bausch work. A large, dominant stage set by Peter Pabst that frames, hinders or becomes part of the action; beautifully-performed gestural processions; loosely-connected vignettes; Marion Cito’s gorgeous costuming. These elements are all present and correct in Ahnen, but with an added element of strange chaos that doesn’t belong to her most famous works.

The first ten minutes of the show seem deliberately calculated to put the audience’s collective head in a spin. Bright lighting; a loud burst of German electropunk; characters strutting across the stage in a bizarre mélange of costumes that includes manga cats, kilted punks and animated hats like something out of a Magritte painting; a woman dumping wheelbarrowloads of bricks at the back of the stage; a woman attacking a concrete block with a pneumatic drill. Overlapping action and unexplained occurrences on stage are a pair of Pina hallmarks, but the frenetic rate and the dizzying randomness of events made me wonder if Bausch had popped across the border in 1987 for a trip to see one of her young Belgian contemporaries – Alain Platel, perhaps, or maybe Wim Vandekeybus.

After a while the pace settles down, but the action itself continues flitting from scene to scene without even the loose connecting theme that binds so much of Bausch’s other work. A woman with a painted face grates a stick of soap into powder onto a rug; a man appears bound with an orange in his mouth, and is given a wet-shave by a fellow cast member; somebody mops a walrus at the back of the stage. There’s a helicopter, and a dog. A man sits silently in front of a microphone with a tutu wrapped around his head; others stack bricks, wind wool and tie ties repeatedly. One man instructs another to literally jump through a hoop placed against a wall with painful-looking results.

Pain is otherwise notable by its absence here, in stark contrast to last week’s bleaker Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört. The mood is light, if relentlessly odd; Bausch’s works are usually abstractedly dreamlike, but Ahnen is more overtly surreal than any I recall to date. There’s a feeling of global wandering – the soundtrack lurches from African drumming to Monteverdi via Ella Fitzgerald and Japanese pop – and the desert evoked by the giant (and undeniably phallic) cacti seems less of a physical location and more a place of the soul.

Ahnen is certainly a peculiar kind of fun, and there are endless surprises and sweet highlights throughout – from hilarious running translations of Bizet arias to a seated ensemble section for hands (perhaps a little touch of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker creeping in there) – but it’s hard to say what it all adds up to. The title suggests only the most hazy of clues: as a noun ‘Ahnen’ can mean ancestors (for anyone looking for connections to last week’s show it’s part of the term ‘Ahnenpass’, the document used in Nazi Germany to prove Aryan heritage) or, as a verb, to guess, intuit or suspect. Portions of the show seem to hint at a sense of wandering identity, a search for heritage, an attempt to fit in among the cacti; others seem to veer more towards a sense of guessing, intuiting, feeling without understanding.

A technical hitch with the fire curtain towards the end of the second half had the audience wondering if this was another (deliberate) strange intervention in a landscape of strange interventions – tribute, certainly, to the commitment of the cast in maintaining this most peculiar of atmospheres. Described by Artistic Director Lutz Förster as “completely crazy” and by The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell as “Bausch on speed”, Ahnen is undoubtedly an oddity among the Bausch back-catalogue but an enjoyable one all the same.

Photo: Bettina Strenske

Originally published at www.londondance.com

June 4, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment