Review: Russell Maliphant Company in Triple Bill at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 6 & 7 April
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 10 April 2006

There are so many good choreographers around at the moment that it’s easy to get carried away with superlatives for the best but there is no way to disguise the brilliance of Russell Maliphant in recent times. Having won just about every award going and developed a coruscating, collaborative relationship with ballet’s reigning queen, Sylvie Guillem, Maliphant has returned to the tiny company he established in 1996 for this two-night stand at Sadler’s Wells. His company last appeared in London at the much smaller theatre in The Place and any worries about the box office for this transition to the bigger venue have been dispelled by sell-out audiences. His company’s next stint at Sadler’s Wells will surely run for more than two nights.

Maliphant’s success lies in the pure idiosyncrasy of his movement: his recipe for dance is instantly recognisable in its diverse mix of ingredients (ballet, capoeira, t’ai chi, contact improvisation etc). It creates a slow-burning fuse that glows throughout this bill of two new pieces plus a reworking of the award-winning *‘Push’ and maintains its unique energy over 80 minutes without interruption. Just as my concentration began to flag – and it happened only once, towards the end of ‘*Transmission’ – another intriguing dimension immediately demanded my attention.

The *‘New Solo’* for *Alexander Varon*a (well remembered as The Moor in Carlos Acosta’s ‘Tocororo’) accentuated the extraordinary sinuous length and feline agility of his body, creating the ability to make many structural forms. Had he not taken to dance, Varona could clearly have been Olympic high jump champion.

This ten-minute solo easily morphed into Transmission’*,* a dance for five women, which – whilst not yet as strong as *‘Push’* – is still a work of outstanding quality. An opening of dark despair; urgent Morse code; interrupted radio transmissions and movement illuminated only by glimpses through phosphorescent light passes into a world of intense brightness and volatile dancing. The women in Maliphant’s troupe have an Amazonian virility of strength and athleticism in their lifts, holds and powerful opposing balances. It is a remarkably gifted ensemble.

All works were heavily abetted by Michael Hulls’ unique lighting which concentrates on the vertical and horizontal axes, creating shadows and shade – both adding to the movement through the extra dimension of dancing silhouettes and hiding aspects of it in darkness. Lighting usually enhances a performance; Michael Hulls’ work goes much further by contributing to the choreography.

In Push’, movement and lighting are joined in a delightful trinity by Andy Crowton’s gorgeous score. ‘Push’ was danced exquisitely by Maliphant and Guillem when premiered in September 2005 and it has now been reworked (extended by 3 minutes) for Varona and Julie Guibert. The first five slow, serpentine lift sequences are sublime moments and this feeling never palls over the whole, captivating 35 minutes of this wonderful duet. In moving from its first couple to this new pair, nothing has been lost but something has been added and it’s more than just a little extra time.

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