Review: Maria Pages & Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in Dunas at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 5 - 7 May 2011
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Friday 6 May 2011

'Dunas' Photo: David Ruano

Reviewed: 5 May

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maria Pagés have achieved a rare thing; both incredibly accomplished in their own genres (contemporary and flamenco respectively), together they have created a mesmerizing show. _*Dunas* _maintains the integrity of both styles, and is more than the sum of its parts. Drawn together through a mutual desire to collaborate and harnessed by imagery of sand dunes, grains and desert landscapes, this partnership is everything that is right about merging genres, technologies and traditions.

The creative duo used a mass of veil like material to cover the stage and drape from the rafters, helping to create shape-shifting sand dune like mirages and landscapes for exploration. Whilst no linear narrative emerges, the passage of time sees Pagés produce flurries of footwork, strong and dominant, to both guide and scold Cherkaoui. Their relationship appears to be one of teacher and student or brother and sister, rather than lovers. With its strong footwork and use of castanets, flamenco is the dominant genre throughout, making Pagés the principal dancer.

The unifying of technology and traditional stage methods is one of the productions many strengths. Simple cloths create perfect rippling screens for shadow play with a twist. Through expert lighting (designed by Felipe Ramos) and extreme precision the duo multiply their bodies and dance with each other’s images. At times each dancer produces at least two shadows, creating three couples on stage. Through tricks of light they interact so succinctly with each other it is easy to forget which image is the real dancer.

Real-time film projection also features in Dunas, designed by Joan Rodón, happily never overshadowing the dancers or choreography. The use of projection is not in the futurist ’90s style which so often fails to sit comfortably with dance. Rather Cherkaoui simply draws finger pictures on a screen covered in sand and the projection creates a backdrop for a lyrical flamenco arm section by Pagés. This use of a natural prop, playfully manipulated, with such high-tech equipment gives an overall organic feel to the piece. Introduced by Cherkaoui simply extending Pagés’ arm lines, the sand drawings soon replaced the dancer as the source of movement. The use of sand to create and erode images, covering up the past, poignantly set up the duo’s ideas of shifting realities; forgotten time/languages/traditions and their joint, yet now fragmented, Moorish roots.

Szymon Brzóska and Ruben Lebaniego’s score is the final element that draws all the components of Dunas together. A mixture of flamenco and Spanish rhythms’ of Moorish origin adds haunting harmonies to the dance. The flamenco footwork part of the musical creation as much as the piano, violin, percussion and song (all played and sung live on stage) – giving an altogether satisfying unity.

Putting two major talents into one piece is often a risky business but perhaps the artist’s real desire to work together allowed for a true masterpiece to emerge. Dunas really is an outstanding choreographic feat which instantly ensnares the imagination. This duet with Pagés will take its place along side *Zero Degrees* with Akram Khan and *Sutra* with the Shaolin Monks, as yet another shining example of a successful Cherkaoui collaboration.

At Sadler’s Wells until 7 May

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