Dance: The magic is missing

GREEN CANDLE DANCE COMPANY SADLER'S WELLS LONDON
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The Independent Culture
AFTER MONTHS of hosting big-league companies, Sadler's Wells is paying its dues to the local community with Green Candle Dance Company's new On the Road to Baghdad. This spectacle adapts a novel by the Turkish- American writer Guneli Gun, which in turn recycles Middle-Eastern folklore, history, Sufism and The Thousand and One Nights. The put-upon picaresque heroine is Huru, who staggers through a tapestry of extraordinary events, monstrous characters and demons who appear and disappear. It is magic realism given a predictable, 20th-century, feminist slant.

The choreographer and dancer Fergus Early started Green Candle as a community project 12 years ago. So how do you judge community performance? With an indulgent smile, if the production is devised and presented solely by amateurs who dance, act, sing and play music. Our heroine travels not only between Istanbul and Baghdad, but also 800 years backwards - and, at three hours, it certainly felt like it.

Emma Cater's Huru is on stage all the time and has a sweet singing voice, but is not a strong enough focus. Early, playing the small role of Huru's father, is relatively harmless; but Jason Lahav's green-skinned demon needs to loosen up his verbal stiffness.

The evening lights up with the Turkish actor Umut Ugur as a roguish alchemist, whose brief, but weighty, presence and voice suddenly make you sit up. He also took part in an exquisite, fantastical aerial ballet, with figures suspended in a night sky, tipping over and tangling with each other. But, in general, the work's dance rarely rises above movement sequences and is shakily performed.

The cast of (almost) thousands was made possible by the volunteers, whose ages span from five to 75. Their obvious pleasure makes this Arts Council- funded project worthwhile, but given its extensive scale and preparation, it is a shame that basic skills were not more rigorously pursued.

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