The art of suspense

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
NOTHING is quite so lifeless as a provincial shopping mall after hours, and the gleaming new Peacocks Centre in Woking, Surrey, is normally no exception. But for the past few weeks the place has been buzzing with activity. Cleaners on the night-shift have found it hard to keep their eyes on the job. Above their heads, high above the shiny faades of Burger King, C&A, Allders and the rest, a grand spectacle is in preparation. Coloured arc-lights swoop about the vast glass atrium while motorised winches grind and whir; high-tension cable decks the walls like bunting. This is the daredevil face of contemporary dance: dance for the people, dance to crane your neck to, dance on the vertical plane...

The French company Roc in Lichen (don't puzzle over the name, it's meaningless) has been cheating gravity in spectacular fashion for the past eight years. Two summers ago it represented France at the Expo in Seville and performed similar aesthetic stunts in a shopping mall there, six dancers performing their strange, slow, lunar dance, feet to the wall, 30ft above a gaping crowd. The Woking gig, part of the town's ambitious new dance festival, bests Seville by 50ft. There is no safety net - that would "spoil the poetry", according to Bruno Dizien, co-founder of the group. His partner, Laura de Nercy, explains: "When you're up very high there is a physical attraction to the empty space below. If people are frightened for the dancers, that's part of the dynamic, part of the work."

Dizien and Nercy, both once straight dancers, first collaborated 10 years ago when they took part in a typically Parisian "dance happening" along the banks of the Seine. Spurning the safety of the riverbank, the pair attached themselves to a metal cable and jumped off the Bir-Hakeim bridge. The cable stopped just short of the water, where they swung gently, then embraced and offered each other flowers in front of the bemused passengers of a bteau mouche. Encouraged by the response to this Enfants du Paradis piece of whimsy, they decided to explore further what they like to call "the notion of verticality", "researching" the project on the inland cliff- faces to be found in the Forest of Fontainebleau, just south of Paris.

After three years of experimental swaying about with crampons and harnesses, their first "oeuvre sur le vertical" emerged and played at the Avignon Festival. In those days they performed in a theatre. The set was a life- size bathroom containing shower, loo, basin and (naturally) bidet, but turned on its side, so that the stage-floor was the wall and the wall was the floor. Dizien and Nercy were seen performing mundane tasks such as taking a douche, before rolling about on the "floor" together while the audience looked on voyeuristically from "above". This 50-minute show was later taken on tour. One of the venues was a sheer rockface halfway up the Verdon Gorge in the South of France, a performing space that required months of preparation and a dizzying armoury of heavy engineering equipment (for the benefit of television cameras).

What the housewives of Surrey will make of this kind of thing remains to be seen. Part of the reason for bringing Roc in Lichen to the festival is to present contemporary dance to those who wouldn't dream of buying a ticket. It will certainly be hard to ignore. The 15-minute work to be premired in the Peacocks Shopping Centre on Thursday at 5pm is called Pigeons la tombe d'chalotes, which, roughly translated, means "Pigeons in a Pickle". But the cleaners on the night-shift needn't worry. There won't be any droppings.

! Roc in Lichen perform at the Peacocks Shopping Centre, Woking, Surrey, this Thursday (5pm), Friday (4pm and 5pm) and Saturday (4pm and 5pm).