Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Wordy Rappinghood, Babel (words) premier, 18/05/10 Sadlers Wells

There has never been such rich choreographic talent condensed in London. For neo-classicism with a dash of modern swagger Christopher Wheeldon Company delivers. Innovative collaborations in a minimalist setting and electronic scores more your thing? Russell Maliphant is the man. If deconstructed movement in a futuristic world gets you going, get cosy with Wayne MacGregor's electrifyingly odd ballets.

If you'd rather see a multicultural mash-up with live, plangent percussion and dizzying physical pyrotechnics, Akram Khan will always oblige. Alongside Khan now stands Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui whose Babel (words) premiered at Sadlers Wells last night.

As the title suggests, Babel is about language - that which as likely communicates as baffles. With a a linguistic and physically diverse smorgasbord of 16 international dancers and a playground of endlessly moveable and stackable wire boxes by sculptor Antony Gormley, we were entertained with the surreal, the barmy and the silly. A PVC clad glamazon (one part robot to two parts catwalk diva) was variously an automaton and a passive/aggressive airport security officer. She was also subject to extreme male attention - provided first by a pair of gabbling prodders to a fully-fledged regression by a French man to a cro magnon state. And back again - luckily.

What defines so much of this modern dance making and is true of Babel is the number of cross-fertilisations between artists happening now - pulling off something together that's bigger than a solo creator could manage. Cherkaoui collaborated with Damien Jalet on the movement and on the design with Antony Gormley. In the past he's also worked with Akram Khan and the drumming Shaolin monks.

It is this willingness to work across artistic boundaries that keeps these works surprising. And at times indulgent. With so much excitement about such collaborations there's always the risk of a lack of focus and editing that was evident here. A swift prune of 20 minutes of repetitive action, such as the relentlessly spinning boxes (we get it, language can put you in a spin!) would have made for a tighter, more immediate work.

The final image of Babel is a motley row of dancers attempting a kind of lunar walk with entwined legs - totteringly, hesitantly they stagger towards the audience - a slow motion wave that doesn't quite break. A beautiful final image then for our struggle to connect and the near impossible tasks of creative collaboration itself.