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Russell Maliphant & Vangelis – The Thread at Sadler’s Wells

Russell Maliphant & Vangelis - The Thread. (c) Yannis Bournias.
Russell Maliphant & Vangelis – The Thread. (c) Yannis Bournias.

The ending was thrilling, the dancers’ bodies had become whirling tumblers on precipices thrown by Michael Hulls’ clever lighting as Vangelis’s music brought a compulsive frenzy of rhythm and tune still resonating when walking away through the dark streets of Islington. Finally, the work was moving, the choreography was exciting, the dancing stunning but it turned out the show was over. Send the audience out with something stunning and maybe they’ll forget the rest.

Perhaps The Thread was supposed to be a meditative piece of dance but Vangelis’s music was full of import and energy not matched by the choreography which relied on repetitions unchanging in tone and lacking in intrigue as well as emotional communication. Traditional Greek dance was supposed to be the inspiration but what we in London were shown of this genre as a source was that its movements were too limited to sustain a substantial dance piece. But the Hellenic Empire has a deep and wide history. The limitations here were not those of Greece but of choreographic inspiration.

Beyond a single thought, that the winding thread of history, represented by dancers in lines, makes and informs the present however segmented it may become through time, there appeared to be little else to read.

The dancing was excellent so far as we could see it. There is a noticeable trend this contemporary season for male dancers costumed in black trousers to be set against a black set so the audience is unable to see the movements of their lower body and footwork. This limits detailed visibility to that of the upper body which here was largely held by the men in still rigidity. The movement of their lower bodies was rather fragile and fine rather than suggesting the strength of the Mediterranean male culture, of conquering Greece which might perhaps be a cliche Maliphant wanted to overturn, everything is more complex than a stereotype, but it was confusing and unsatisfying as it created an impression that bore no relation to the truth of male-dominated, conquering, tribute taking, athletic Greece through history which its old, local dances must surely reflect as well as the relationship between the sexes with democracy for land-owning males only. There was no eroticism, hardly any connection within or between the sexes, everything was mostly anodyne, everyone not more than part of a beautifully lit line. Michael Hulls had highlighted the males and females bare arms so held together they appeared to form a thread of gold. This is an effect, not enough to sustain you.

The most effective dancing was by the women dancers, watching them glide and turn gracefully with up-stretched arms in their costumes redolent of Minoan goddesses was fascinating for a little while. But this too became frustrating with repetition taking us nowhere.

There was one short scene of dancing with leg bells which brought menace and aggression and satisfying illusion but as this was set between dances that gave it no context (other than as part of the nebulous thread) it was a jewel without a setting.

Vangelis’s music would communicate to the audience threats which must be attended to but barely anything of substance would happen on stage. Traditional Greek instruments and members of a polyphonic group participated in the recording of Vangelis’s music and produced sounds ringing with something ancient, ignored on stage. There was a thrilling horn section bringing images of the roar of the Minotaur or a call to battle, we were waiting to be shown but there was nothing just winding. Another section of the music brought the sound of the wind, reminding one of Dodona in Epirus, the site of the oldest Hellenic Oracle where, in the sacred grove, priestesses and priests would listen to the sounds of trees rustling in the wind to tell the future. Meanwhile, on stage, the lines of dancers repeated, broke up and wound again. The music composed by a Greek musician brought echoes of so much more than the dancing we were watching.

I found myself getting bored until the final five minutes of a show that ran for one hour and twenty minutes. Very rarely am I bored by contemporary dance and this was choreography by the innovative and exciting Russell Maliphant with music by Vangelis. Sadler’s was packed with its trendy premiere crowd, important representatives from Greece were there. Expectations were high, Vangelis’s music and the dancers were superb (if under-stretched until the end) but the choreography was disappointing.

2 gold stars

Review by Marian Kennedy

Celebrated choreographer and Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Russell Maliphant collaborates with Oscar-winning composer Vangelis for this stunning new work.

Inspired by ancient mythology and set to explosive electronic music, this contemporary dance production explores changing forms of traditional Greek dance.

The acclaimed creative team includes artistic conception from Georgia Iliopoulou; lighting by fellow Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist, the “choreographer of light”, Michael Hulls; and costume design by award-winning London-based Greek fashion designer, Mary Katrantzou.

Sadler’s Wells
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R
https://www.sadlerswells.com

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