Review: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui in Myth at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 16 & 17 May 08
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Monday 19 May 2008

Performance: 16 May.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, famed in the UK for his hand in Zero Degrees, has built up a credible name throughout Europe for his intelligence and vision. This two hour spectacular allowed five actors and eight dancers to portray multilayered themes which linger with you long after the performance. The themes explored were basic and fundamental to life, yet displayed in a complex way, trying to make sense of the world in a challenging and effective way.

The library/waiting room set inhabited by 5 human characters, possibly from different points in time, but definitely from different walks of life, gave a modern yet timeless feel to the piece. The dancers, dressed in black and varying in costume took on a sub or super human feel, becoming the actors shadows/life force, posing questions on peoples conscious decision making processes. Distilling the air around the main characters, these black cladded beings worked liked packs of wolves to move and propel them into their future. These decadents of darkness displayed supernatural powers as they effortlessly scaled walls, swung from beams and vocalised sounds from growls to whispers.

The movement in Myth incorporated contemporary technique, marshal arts, contortionism and acrobatics – sewn together with fluidity and confidence. Waves, black material in various forms, washed over the stage contrasting the pedestrian and everyday motions of the actors. The swinging of limbs often manipulating the body away from the typical human form was reminiscent of Cherkaoui’s own movement abilities. The movement remained at the core of the themes presented due to the level of contortionism, but these ideas went beyond the individual body as Cherkaoui used surrealist mechanisms to transcend the human.

The music provided by the Ensemble Micrologus provided an alter ego for this work, helping to set the work outside of time – a waiting room or purgatory. This ensemble credited with the rediscovery of medieval Italian music became the backbone of the performance. Although exquisitely executed, the vocals bared little resemblance to the narrative it accompanied. Perhaps the use of both Italian and Spanish lyrics was intended to mask this.

Feeling more European than British or American in style, Myth had no clear focal point, leaving the viewer to meander unguided through a confusing world; become individual authors of their own experience. This dance-drama provided humor, pain and soul searching via recognizable characters such as a New York drag queen and a lonely intellectual woman. These characters divulged their darkest side, their fears and emotional scars combined with their inner turmoils.

A religious flavor runs through this piece in both text and symbolic movement. With the aesthetic of a Japanese Manga, the ideas are created out of context yet combined under the quotations ranging from Chinese proverbs to Leonardo Da Vinci. These quotations added a sense of definition to the work evoking thoughts of shadows, darkness and humanism.

Drawing on numerous religions, from Hinduism to Christianity, Myth tackles this volatile subject as if mixing the ingredients of a familiar recipe. Cherkaoui depicts the creation of Adam and Eve, the characteristics of Shiva and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. By addressing belief systems in this way the audience is forced to acknowledge faith rather than individual religions.

It’s hard to draw a descriptive analysis of Myth due to the multitude of possible readings. Surrounding the assumed central themes of religion, sexuality and binaries of life/death, light/shadow and male/female are a thousand fleeting moments connecting the larger themes to the everyday. Bringing together performers from around the globe, Cherkaoui’s company definitely shocked and mesmerised audiences at Sadler’s Wells. The passage of time unravelled centuries of human myths without providing a clear pathway to an answer – a challenging work for a Friday evening.

What’s On