Review: Compagnie 111 / Aurélien Bory / Kaori Ito – Plexus – Sadler’s Wells

Performance: 22 & 23 January 2015
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Friday 23 January 2015

Kaori Ito in 'Plexus'

Performance reviewed: 22 January

French director Aurélien Bory, of Compagnie 111 fame, is immersed in a project of creating performance portraits of female dancers. This collaboration with Kaori Ito – presented as part of the London International Mime Festival – is the second of a planned trilogy. Classically trained in Japan, Ito then travelled to the US and has since worked with a number of high-profile European choreographers. The sense of her reshaping herself, physically and emotionally, for each of these demanding professional encounters seems to be a driving force in Plexus, which, in line with Bory’s love of stage spectacle and exploration of space, is played out in a cube-like construction of 5,000 vertical strings.

Plexus, we’re told in the programme, refers to a network of nerves in the body, or ‘an intricate network of web-like formation’. Here, light-play across this dense set of cords – mysteriously soft enough to be parted and gathered, but taut enough to support Ito’s body weight – gives them a shifting solidity: sometimes their oppressive constriction is enhanced; sometimes light shimmers make the strings look like a rain shower; sometimes they seem to vanish almost entirely. And enmeshed within them is Ito. She moves with staccato grace through her prison, sometimes adopting the mechanical movements of a marionette/robot, sometimes collapsing into the cords, to be held suspended in slumped defeat. She is beseeching, then frustrated and furious (her amplified stomping shaking the whole structure as if she were an ancient goddess), then seductive, slipping slinkily and half-nude around her cell.

And then Ito takes flight, using the strings with extraordinary control and precision to hold her high in the air. There are disconcerting, oddly duelling echoes of both The Assumption and Nobuyoshi Araki’s kinbaku-bi photography in the spectacle of Ito’s suspended body; and yet there is also, in contrast, a sense of a woman asserting her power, as she floats, wraith-like, high up through the wires, slowly dominating the space and finally, seemingly, escaping. Whether we are invited very far into Ito’s personal world is up for debate, though – the staging, for all its cleverness, holds its audience at arm’s length from the performer, making this feel a touch too clinical to be an affecting portrait, and more like a reimagined myth. But in terms of sheer visual impact, Plexus proves to be a remarkable piece of performance art.

Part of London International Mime Festival, at various venues until 31 January 2015

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

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