Review: Liang / Maliphant / Wheeldon - Fang-Yi Sheu & Yuan Yuan Tan - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 14 - 16 November 2013
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Monday 18 November 2013

Fang-Yi Sheu in Russell Maliphant's 'PresentPast' Photo: Belinda Lawley

Performance reviewed: 15 November 2013

The five works by three different choreographers featuring Yuan Yuan Tan and Fang-Yi Sheu was not just a meeting of contemporary and ballet but also cultures – Yuan Yuan Tan is Chinese, Fang-Yi Sheu Taiwanese, while their supporting partners, Damian Smith and Clifton Brown are respectively Australian and American. Although cultural identity was not high on the agenda in the works by Edwaard Liang, Russell Maliphant and Christopher Wheeldon but instead a focus on the skills of the dancers, particularly the women.

Liang’s Finding Light is a duet for Tan and Smith in which she is draped round his shoulders for most of it in a series of languorous lifts. It is a piece which focuses on her delicacy and malleable body and his sturdiness and dexterity. At times she looks breakable, but there’s also a steely strength in her compliancy. The theatrical smoke, purple-white costumes and atmospheric lighting emphasise the fragile flavour of the duet, but also its subtleties. Free from superfluous movement and other distractions, we can see the dancers thinking about and anticipating each posture, communicating in a tightly synchronised conversation.

Sheu’s solo PresentPast choreographed by Maliphant, is based around circular motions – the walking patterns, arms gestures and hip rotations which she performs in Michael Hulls’s shadowy lighting. She stretches out of the circle in voluptuous limb extensions, robust yet gentle is her interpretation of the choreography. A dated recording of Donizetti’s song Una Furtiva Lagrima adds a theatrical melancholia which is then juxtaposed with the clashing of percussion in the second half of the solo in which Sheu erupts in fast, sharp gestures and forceful energy, still partially obscured. It’s a great character sketch of the dancer.

Following the gymnastic duet After the Rain, in which Tan bends like a sinewy rubber band under the reliable hands of Smith, Wheeldon’s Five Movements, Three Repeats is a quartet which showcases the dancers effectively, set to the music of Max Richter. Slow sculptural poses taken by Sheu, Smith and Brown, with Tan gliding across the stage en pointe forms the ‘chorus’ of the work which is repeated from a variety of perspectives. Here each dancer’s style is apparent: the grounded, muscular flexibility of Sheu, surrendering to gravity, the lightness and elegance of Tan as she defies gravity and the powerful agility of both men. Wheeldon manages to add some quirks to the overall romantic tone of the quartet, a jaunty walk, unusual arms gestures which also inject welcome flashes of personality . An interesting combination of solos and duets illustrate the versatility of the dancers although I would have liked to have seen more input from the men, who do play second fiddle to the women.

Maliphant’s Two x Two for Tan and Sheu captures the women at their best, highlighting limbs moving with precision and speed through the dim lighting. Tan and Sheu each occupy a small pool of light downstage, the tall standing stature of Tan and the shorter one of Sheu, kneeling as she works into the floor. Andy Cowton’s brooding, sonic pulse explodes into drum and bass and the women let rip in the shadows. Swirling arms, intricate fingers, vigorous ripples through the torso, each part of the body springing to life as it hits the light. Here both women are dynamic, independent forces, not delicate or reliant on a partner’s strength. Their grounded stance allows them to experiment all the more with movement in the upper body and arms. Ballet and contemporary morph into one.

Sadler’s Wells 14 – 16 November 2013

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Insider

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