Review: Russell Maliphant Company in Afterlight at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 28 & 29 September 2010
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Wednesday 29 September 2010

Russell Maliphant's 'AfterLight'

Reviewed: 28 September 2010

Who knew there were so many ways to spiral the human body? A looping pirouette, swirling arms, an arc of the torso, hips skimming across the floor – there must be hundreds, and in the mesmerising AfterLight Russell Maliphant has captured them all.

Developed from the 2009 solo AfterLight (Part One) show as part of the In The Spirit of Diaghilev programme at Sadler’s Wells last year, this new hour-long programme adds two cast members but keeps as its inspiration the swirling images of Vaslav Nijinsky first encountered by Maliphant as a student at the Royal Ballet School. The choreographer has described his work as being “somewhere between choreography and scultpure”, and here the signature elements of Maliphant’s style are well in evidence – soft, grounded pliés, an expressive upper body, and long, mobile arms. Wedded to this distinctive style are nods to the Ballets Russes canon – hip switches and swishing legs recalling Balanchine, low supported jetés that bring to mind Fokine.

The piece opens with Daniel Proietto’s solo, the “part one” developed last year, and it’s probably the strongest part of the evening. Revolving in a dim spotlight, Proietto scoops and shapes the space with arms and arcing backbends to the delicate music of Satie’s Gnossiennes. In Michael Hulls’ dappled lighting, Proietto is sometimes sculpted, sometimes obscured from view; and the swish of his limbs is slightly strobed leaving an impression of the trail lingering in space. At times, the dancer appears to hang from an arm or an elbow, like Fokine’s Petruschka dangling on a string.

Olga Corbos and Silvina Cortés dance a fluid, floor-based duet partially obscured by a projection of autumn leaves on a gauze between the dancers and audience. The projection element is the result of Maliphant’s new collaboration with animator Jan Urbanowski , and although I can see how the sensation of peeking between the forest leaves connects to the conceal-and-reveal feeling of Hulls’ lighting design, I find the gauze itself quite physically obstructive and distancing from the dancers.

A third section finds Corbos duetting with Proietto behind a pretty projection of floating clouds, which obscures less of the action and complements Andy Cowton’s Japanese-inspired score well. Swirling through space, the arms of the two dancers connect and revolve around each other in a manner reminiscent of the choreographer’s earlier work Torsion. Later in the piece, a suggestion of three characters in competition arises, with Cortés arching seductively on the floor at Proietto’s feet, leading him away from Corbos’s more innocent ingenue.

In common with much of Maliphant’s work, AfterLight oozes physical sensuousness and inventiveness, and the soft spiralling quality of the movement is always captivating. At sixty minutes in length, the material is just beginning to strain beyond its capacity to hold the attention, however. A scaled-down version, perhaps presented in a double-bill with a contrasting work (the ever-popular Two comes to mind), would make for a very pleasant evening indeed.

*Afterlight* is at Sadler’s Wells on 29 September and them tours to Biarritz, Barcelona, New York, Belfast, St Polten before returning to London for performances at Laban on 24 & 25 November 2010. More details

Read our Q&A on Afterlight with Russell Maliphant

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