Les Paladins, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Cloud-bouncing - would that be one step away from Tantric rumpy-pumpy?

Cloud-bouncing - would that be one step away from Tantric rumpy-pumpy? Yes, according to José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu, the director/ choreographers of this fanciful confection. For cloud-bouncing, read euphoria. For euphoria, read sex. It's the pre- dominant image in a hot-flush of images that tickle the fancy and assault the senses over this sporadically witty but hopelessly overworked and ultimately irritating evening.

The subject - or perhaps one should say, the vehicle - for this, the longest hot-flush in the history of the universe, is Rameau's penultimate opera-ballet, Les Paladins, and it brings together the forces of William Christie's flamboyant early music group Les Arts Florissants and the dance troupe CCN de Créteil at du Val-de-Marne/Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu.

Where to begin? A bare stage, a series of screens, a video presentation kicking in. This is the back-drop. No, more than a back-drop; it will effectively upstage the staging. This is the Mary Poppins school of opera-ballet - a cutesy mix of animation and reality. According to Montalvo, Rameau's gallant, fantastical world of sexual politics - the pursuit of love, marriage, and happiness - is an animal thing. His video design is a veritable zoo of rampant, reclining, prowling animals. The live per- formers interact with them, sometimes transforming into animal or part-animal themselves. Their heads are in the clouds - literally. That's where the Tantric bouncing comes in.

But seeing is believing. You need to be there. Or do you? I was intrigued, even dazzled for the first 20 minutes. The choreographic mix of classical and contemporary has its own bite and there are flashes of real wit that are right on the money. But for every one of those there are countless more that aren't. Montalvo and Hervieu' don't know when to stop. Repetitive strain injury of the retina - that's my prognosis for anyone planning a visit.

And Rameau? You'd hardly know he was there. True, this isn't/wasn't his finest hour, and you could argue that this is one way of camouflaging the inspirational short-fall. But I do believe the creative team have ultimately short-changed him. Christie and his company are their usual ebullient selves but neither singers nor players are flattered by the Barbican's dry acoustic. The semi- covered pit has a subduing effect on Rameau's nattier colours taking the edge off the dance music, undoubtedly the catchiest music in the piece.

And the dancers? Well, they are great, with or without their clothes. But I'd try a different approach come Valentine's Day.

Last performance tonight at 7.15pm (020-7638 8891)

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