Their starting point was the continuous flow between past and present, from ancient Greece – the cradle of Western culture – to modern times. That flow, or The Thread, gives the work its title, and points, too, to the Greek myth of the Minotaur, the ferocious part-bull part-man monster, who was kept in a Cretan labyrinth. The Minotaur was eventually killed by the Athenian hero Theseus, who found his way out of the labyrinth with the help of a thread laid by Ariadne.
Not that Maliphant and Vangelis’ The Thread even attempts to create a linear narrative of any kind; rather it evolves as a collection of atmospheric dances, where Greek folk dance alternates with sections of pure Maliphant and a few where the two traditions blend.
As the curtain goes up, 18 dancers stand in a pool of mellow light formed into two concentric circles, arms around each other’s waists. Slowly they bend backwards, rather like a flower opening up for the day, only to close up again.
Gradually the circles widen, the dancers hold hands and form into an undulating line, a thread that evolves around the stage to the crescendo of Vangelis’ score. Theirs are the steps and formations of traditional Greek dancing, the women in flowing striped skirts in tones of blue and red, the men in dark trousers and matching tops.
This opening places the work firmly in Greece. All 18 dancers are Greek, 12 of them contemporary dancers, the remaining six traditional. All had to adapt not only to each others’ disciplines, but also to Russell Maliphant’s very specific choreographic style with its blend of ballet, contemporary dance, tai ch’i and Brazilian capoeira.
Immediately after the opening there comes a sequence where dancers take to the stage in small alternating groups to occupy shifting pools of ephemeral light. Now we’re firmly in Maliphant territory with his signature low squats, long backbends and spinning turns with raised arms. Vangelis’ music thumps with a heavy beat.
All production values are immaculate. Vangelis' recorded music, played on traditional instruments with the participation of a polyphonic group, runs the full gamut from pensive adagio to orgasmic frenzy. The costumes, which change subtly between scenes, bear the signature of the London-based Greek fashion designer Mary Katrantzou. Regular Maliphant collaborator Michael Hulls works his usual magic with lighting, creating visual imagery strongly reminiscent of ancient Greek friezes or of a mythical river where four graceful nymphs while away their time.
Russell Maliphant/Vangelis, The Thread, photo Yannis Bournias
And yet, all that said, The Thread doesn’t really amount to more than the sum of its parts. Sure, there is much to enjoy; but as the work goes on you realise that its heavy concept – ‘the Thread is the energy that connects us to the universe,’ according to the programme notes – isn’t really being served. In other words, all dances work well in their own context, but rarely do they bleed into each other in an unbroken continuum or, if you like, a thread.
|What||Maliphant & Vangelis, The Thread Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
15 Mar 19 – 17 Mar 19, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour and 15 mins no interval
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|