One body emerges very gradually, legs first, from the top edge of a vast sloping floor tilted at precisely 34 degrees, which covers the whole of Sadler’s Wells stage, its gleaming white surface brightly lit from above (lighting design Joakim Brink). With mesmerising control, the dancer slides slowly down on his back, eventually disappearing off the bottom.
Thus starts Skid, a work by the French/Belgian choreographer Damien Jalet, which explores gravity and the dual reaction of resistance and abandon. Or, in Jalet’s own words, it’s about ‘dancers who are controlling the uncontrollable’.
The first 10 minutes of Skid, which opened the GöteborgsOperans Danskompani programme at Sadler’s Wells, consist entirely of 17 dancers slowly sliding down the slope in a staggered process which, through its unhurried, repetitive nature, acquires a hypnotic, outlandish beauty.
Their slow descent, or controlled abandon, is accompanied by the gentle crescendo of Christian Fennesz and Marihiko Hara’s electronic score. But then the whole mood changes radically. The music becomes more assertive, louder, rhythmic, and the 17 dancers emerge from the bottom, climbing, slipping and climbing some more.
They walk across resisting the pull of gravity with thrilling energy and control. They move individually, or form collective shapes: alternating lines, or a V. Sometimes they form pairs, like mountaineers hauling each other up.
A change of light enhances the shadows they cast on the floor; another turns them into moving silhouettes. The music acquires the overtones of an epic film score.
Finally, only one dancer is left, his stretchy top forming a hanging cocoon, from which, like a giant insect, he struggles to emerge. Newly born and naked, he starts a slow climb, at first hesitantly, but acquiring confidence as he approaches the top; and once there, he dives over.
After a long interval made necessary by the complexities of dismounting the sloping floor, the dancers return in Sharon Eyal’s SAABA, the choreographer’s third piece for the company, boasting a special collaboration with Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri.
Eyal is a Sadler’s Wells associate artist and her style is well known to London audiences. Always performed to loud, heavily percussive music scores by Ori Lichtik, her signature moves recur: long walks on demi pointe, bent knees, arms akimbo, crotch foremost.
All are present and correct in SAABA, where each dancer’s body is sculpted by Chirui’s skin-tight unitards, designed to match specific skin colours and embellished with lacy patterns, which, sadly, are not properly discernible from the theatre.
The company’s outstanding dancers perform Eyal’s choreography with preternatural precision, their flexible bodies alternating between excessive spine curvature at the waist, and rhythmic torso contractions, arms now poised like broken wings, now cradling their faces.
Together they fan out across the stage or huddle in tighter formations, and always one dancer stands out from the crowd, briefly doing his or her own thing before rejoining the ensemble.
There are moments of strange beauty in Eyal’s work, but its ultimately pointless repetitiveness always leaves this viewer with a very empty feeling. Maybe that's the point?
|What||Review: GöteborgsOperans Danskompani, Skid/SAABA|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
11 May 23 – 13 May 23, 19:30 Dur.: 2 hours 10 mins approx inc one interval
|Price||£12-£55 (+booking fee)|
|Website||Click here to book|