French without tears

DANCE: Decoudex, New Victoria Theatre, Woking
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The Independent Culture
Remember the 1992 Winter Olympics opening ceremony? Me neither. However, this televisual extravaganza catapulted the dancemaker and illusionist Philippe Decoufle to fame. His latest show, Decodex, has been touring Europe to packed houses since 1995 and is currently making its farewell performances as the highlight of the Woking Dance Umbrella. When I last saw Decoufle's company at London's Almeida Theatre 10 years ago in Technicolor he was working on a far humbler scale, content with a handful of men and a stepladder. Yet all the elements were in place: the acrobatic dance, the circus skills, the Gallic wit and whimsy - lessons learnt at the feet of men like Marcel Marceau and Alwin Nikolais. The American showman's early influence, combined with Decoufle's more recent collaboration with costume fantasist Philippe Guillotel, gave birth to Decodex, a surreal hybrid of dance and circus.

The work is filled with other-worldly images delivered in bewildering succession. Stripy dancers with their feet encased in giant fish-tail flippers lollop about the stage while Dominique Willoughby's flickering projections play on their eerily phosphorescent costumes. A figure enters, his hands replaced by snaking tentacles four-feet long, which flick around his body like huge fly whisks. Enter two men in suits carrying a bald man in a vast inflatable white bag, which he attacks like a clueless bachelor in a fight with a duvet cover. Three dancers surround their bodies with long concertina- like hoses forming a sort of human Pompidou Centre.

Some of these visual effects are reminiscent of other prop-crazed illusionists like Moses Pendleton's Momix or Victoria Chaplin's Circle Invisible. Happily, Decodex is free of Pendleton's cutesy vulgarity and Chaplin's flaccid feyness. Decoufle's more robust wit is a big help - as are the dancers themselves. Available in all shapes and sizes, they peep over their spectacles from time to time to deliver fleeting phrases of pure dance performed with great style. The audience, which featured a lot of young children and teenagers, was amused and appreciative.

I liked it, too, but I was very grateful to find it a good half-hour short of the advertised 90 minutes. A lot of it was beautiful. It's sensationally dressed, Eric Wurtz's lighting is inspired, the music and the moods are varied but flicking through a crazy catalogue of images can become somewhat enervating if it hasn't been indexed by a guiding intelligence and fortified with just a pinch of meaning. Maybe it's just a language barrier: perhaps Decoufle is merely proving that you can speak French without saying a word.

Today 2.30 & 8pm (01483 761144)

Louise Levene