Review: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui - Yabin Studio / Eastman – Genesis – Sadler’s Wells

Performance: 28 & 29 September 2015
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Wednesday 30 September 2015

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui - Yabin Studio / Eastman 'Genesis' Photo: Koen Broos

Performance reviewed: 28 September

There’s something quite joyous about Belgian-Moroccan choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s commitment to finding connections across cultures. His wholehearted enthusiasm has encompassed flamenco stars to Shaolin monks, Japanese manga to Argentine tango dancers. Quite often, though, the resulting shows, determined to give every idea an equal voice, end up being rather baggily incoherent. *Genesis* is no different. Larbi’s collaborator here is Chinese choreographer Yabin Wang: she and three of her Yabin Studio dancers join three of Larbi’s Eastman company dancers for a production centred around the idea of our estrangement from the natural world, the pressures to conform, and how these things push us apart.

Large, wheeled perspex boxes, like giant specimen jars being moved around the stage, contain and separate the seven dancers, who initially appear in doctors’ white coats, surgical masks and scrubs. Their stark lines and locking moves mutate into fluid gesture and sinuous arms as some shed their coats and become the ‘patients’.

Behind them, the multicultural mix of musicians (Polish pianist Barbara Drazkowska, Indian mridangist Manjunath B Chandramouli and Congolese singer and guitarist Kaspy Kusosa Kuyubuka) are also enclosed in their glass ‘cages’, sometimes finding moments of stirring beauty in their combined sounds.
Larbi’s thought-provoking message is that between birth and death, both of which often happen in a sterile hospital environment, we are being tested, assessed and appraised: simple human contact is made harder. Kazutomi Kozuki’s resuscitated corpse jerks and flails on a gurney as his ‘doctor’ holds his hands over him. He throws himself around the stage in agonies as the ‘doctors’ observe and take notes. Chains of energy and exchange accompany a speech in Mandarin about DNA (the projected English translation is sadly obscured by Willy Cessa’s spotlights). Wang’s elegant solo is disrupted as the white coats move in and start to manipulate her like a marionette. Couples are forcibly parted.

But although there are powerful moments and graceful compositions conjured on Liu Kedong’s tenebrous set, Larbi’s realisation of his theme is pretty disjointed.

An extended sequence with glass balls is pretty but rather vacant. Wang’s excursion into what looks like a Chinese ghost story – where her water sleeves and black-clad (‘invisible’) helpers are used for an effectively creepy ‘extending arms’ illusion – doesn’t seem a natural fit in the flow of ideas. And one of the ensemble pieces, where the dancers show great skill in presenting controlled abandon, looks, in truth, like they’re being attacked by mosquitoes for no discernible reason.

This magpie approach over Genesis’s (rather over-long) 85 minutes is ultimately its undoing: it has a bright beauty but doesn’t drill down deep enough into the subject’s humanity to make you feel moved by the struggles Larbi wants to convey.

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

Photos: Koen Broos

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