DANCE / The rages of Original Sin: Judith Mackrell reviews Nigel Charnock and Angelika Oei

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The Independent Culture
Nigel Charnock is a virtuoso in damage. Social paranoia, sexual obsession, masochism, sadism, hysteria - he has a way of letting these states invade his body so that he seems on the point of total self-destruction. In past performances he's thrown himself repeatedly off illegally high scenery, he's vomited torrents of agonised and hilarious verbal self-abuse. What's so gripping about these images of trauma and dysfunction is not just the physical control they involve - it's the fact that they seem for real. Charnock makes you feel that he has been in some dark and dangerous places and is desperate to drag you there too.

In his new show Original Sin, performed at the ICA with actress Liz Brailsford and musician Nicholas Skilbeck, Charnock gets right down to sex: 'rude bonky sex'; sex as emotional need; sex for women and sex for men. He and Brailsford shoot volleys of graphically dirty language at each other and jockey for physical satisfaction; they battle out a grim comedy of needy people failing to get what they want.

Charnock is stunning in a variety of pathetic, funny and horrible male guises - an anxious but inept Joy of Sex reader, all technical talk and no feeling; an archetypal, laddish dickhead; a man inarticulately at sea in his own feelings. Though most of the show's material is verbal, it depends on Charnock's dance skills, and his performance hits brilliance when both his body and his voice catch the exact physical rhythm of his characters' states.

When Charnock is simply voyaging through these emotional hinterlands he flays all kinds of nerves. He's less good when he launches into polemic (standard anti-Fascist, anti-Church stuff) and when he tries to generalise - what women want is love and what men want is sex. His vision is too free-ranging, too dangerous and too funny to settle for so simple a line.

Angelika Oei's field of reference is more cerebral and sedate in Kepler's Kamer - a work that 'looks into the correlation between natural science laws and the human body'. Her set is an adventure playground of crazily angled tables and chairs in which her four dancers encounter friction and the force of gravity. They deftly and sometimes rather beautifully scramble and slide along its surfaces, they spin in the empty spaces between.

For periods they engage in more human dynamics as tiny conversational gestures expand into bouts of mischief, provocation and friendly support. In all of this they appear amiable and accomplished but they cannot overcome the fact that Oei works too few ideas too hard. Towards the end, the work's repetitiveness, its failure to expand beyond its basic premise, seems suggestive not so much of a perfectly ordered universe as of the choreographer's limitations.