A muse to the dance of time

Ballet Atlantique | Barbican Theatre, London
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The Independent Culture

The hymn-writer reminds us that time is like an ever-rolling stream, and Régine Chopinot takes the same image as the basis of La Danse du Temps for her Ballet Atlantique, brought to the Barbican by BITE:00. The stage for this Dance of Time is dominated by film of a sculpture made by Andy Goldsworthy for the museum at Digne, Provence, comprising a 50-square-metre wall of clay that changes as it dries, revealing the shape of a river. Actually I see a double image in it: the surface resembling a dried up riverbed, with a serpentine darker shape - not unlike the bends of the Thames - running through it.

The hymn-writer reminds us that time is like an ever-rolling stream, and Régine Chopinot takes the same image as the basis of La Danse du Temps for her Ballet Atlantique, brought to the Barbican by BITE:00. The stage for this Dance of Time is dominated by film of a sculpture made by Andy Goldsworthy for the museum at Digne, Provence, comprising a 50-square-metre wall of clay that changes as it dries, revealing the shape of a river. Actually I see a double image in it: the surface resembling a dried up riverbed, with a serpentine darker shape - not unlike the bends of the Thames - running through it.

In front of this fascinating image, 16 dancers (dressed plainly by Yao Souka in clay colours) move in mostly simple but always handsome and interesting patterns. One of the first things you notice is the prominent presence of two dancers much older than usual. They are Dominique and Françoise Dupuy, a married couple aged respectively 70 and 75, who used to run their own company - it came to London some 30 years ago. Invited out of retirement to join Ballet Atlantique, they do not join in the choreography's faster passages but they do still dance with an austere, expressive clarity.

Having them among other dancers of varying ages, some quite young and others (including Chopinot herself) somewhere between, shows the possible continuity of a dancer's career. This contrasts interestingly with Jiri Kylian's segregation of Nederlands Dans Theater into age-coded groups, seen at Edinburgh a week ago. I am more comfortable with Chopinot's approach, even though I much enjoy NDT3's golden oldies when - too rarely nowadays - they have properly demanding choreography.

Chopinot writes that a simple form of dancing fascinates her. She has chosen in this piece to work with a mixture of walking, stylised running, small bouncy jumps, falling and immobility. The patterns and rhythms, and the switch from one mood to another, provide the chief interest. She tends to group dancers together: perhaps all but one of them will be on the same small part of the stage, or another time they huddle with necks entwined like small, upright rugby scrums.

Naturally, movement right across the stage (but generally rather slow) is much featured, and this is emphasised by sometimes having dancers visible in the wings, sitting to wait for their entry. There is nothing spectacular in any of this, but it always looks good, is compelling to watch and expressive of the choreographer's ideas about the flow of time.

The work's score by Tÿn-Thât Tiêt takes inspiration from the remembered rivers and boatmen's songs of his native Vietnam for its meditations on time recalled and lost. Although written for three different ensembles (recorded respectively by the Rosamonde Quartet, Les Percussions de Strasbourg and the Radio France Choir), it is played continuously and makes a surprisingly unified whole, supporting, sustaining and reinforcing the impact of the ballet.

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