Babelle Heureuse, Barbican Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

Do you know what an infographer is? No, nor do I, but this show has one, with four assistants, among its large production staff, and I assume they have some responsibility for the trick film effects, in conjunction with the 3D animator, the video director and maybe the two inventors of images.

Do you know what an infographer is? No, nor do I, but this show has one, with four assistants, among its large production staff, and I assume they have some responsibility for the trick film effects, in conjunction with the 3D animator, the video director and maybe the two inventors of images.

But actually the screen images contribute less than in previous manifestations by José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu, although they do provide one or two neat jokes (including a giant gander that just won't be told what to do), and an amazing sequence when you would swear that a filmed tiger is jumping between two boards held by men on stage.

Well, that's clever and amusing, but even more so is what the 20 live performers are doing. For a little more than an hour they keep up a nonstop barrage of tricks. Some spin incredibly on shoulders, head or the base of a hand: so fast, so risky, surely so painful, but so insouciantly done. Others somersault in what you would think impossible patterns, or leap and kick, sometimes united in dangerous battle manoeuvres.

There's the tall blonde woman who dances animatedly while singing long solos: not your gentle waltz but big jumps across the stage. The contortionist in her red tights, virtually becoming the creature of a snake charmer, is impressive enough, and so is the woman in black who balances upright but upside down on her hands for long periods; but when they do their tricks conjoined, they become even more astonishing.

Only one idea failed to come off at the Barbican first night, when a man who could have been Papageno, after whistling "London Bridge is falling down", called out "Now all together" but hardly anyone joined in.

It seemed to me that occasionally the same trick got repeated once or twice too often, but judging from the audience's "Oohs" and "Ahs", mine must have been very much a minority opinion.

My other slight complaint would be that the show is not what it claims to be, namely a choreographic fairy tale, because there isn't really any story in it: just a cleverly arranged collection of happenings. There again, it must be said that for the ordinary punter, the excitement and the novelty, not to mention the humour, are going to be quite enough to hold the interest.

Anyway, the title says it all: Babelle Heureuse or "Happy Babel". The music is on the same lines. Besides the dancers who were singing, two Iranian musicians joined in the on-stage movement. The accompaniment is listed as comprising their arrangements of traditional melodies together with Bach and Vivaldi, but the music of Mozart, Bizet and others appears, uncredited, too.

I suppose you could say that the result is a Babel of different musical languages. And the most important point is that, thanks to the cheerful jollity of all the varied performers, although the total effect is a kind of babble, it genuinely is a very happy babble.

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