Batsheva Dance Co, Barbican, London

How to do the cha-cha-cha when you're tipsy in a tuxedo
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The tuxedoed gent engrossed in his own private, tipsy cha-cha-cha made a faintly embarrassing spectacle, standing up there alone on stage as the Barbican audience were taking their seats. But hadn't we seen him somewhere before? The work of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin – feted in mainland Europe – isn't much known in Britain. But the two examples we have seen both featured this sozzled specimen, the self-styled life and soul of the party you'd go out of your way to avoid.

Typically, once the audience has been made suitably uneasy, Naharin disappears for the rest of the show. And Sabotage Baby – the work which opened this year's Dance Umbrella festival – continues for the next 90 minutes as a rude blast of muscular extravagance and industrial noise, the very antithesis of ballroom manners. For once, there is no argument about whether music should be taped or live. The extraordinary sound world created by Orkater (the duo Peter Zegveld and Thijs van der Poll) evolves before your eyes as an orchestra of scrap factory components is assembled across the back of the stage. One by one the machines are set whirring, scraping, screeching and clattering with extraordinary rhythmic sophistication. Some of the procedures are potentially hazardous, requiring the musicians to don welder's goggles. One memorable effect is achieved by boiling marbles in steel vats. The pair attend to these busy processes like operatives on a production line, now and then mouthing indecipherable commands down an intercom.

All of which generates a good deal of drama in itself, so that the 18 dancers that make up Batsheva Dance Company, for all their verve and sharp synchronisation, seem to play second fiddle. The costumes are a talking point: strapped and buckled sackcloth creations that combine the ruggedness of factory overalls with S&M catwalk chic, apron-fronts flapping open as bare limbs thrust out at wild angles or turn startling mid-air flips. I liked the savage love duet, punctuated by shouts and grunts and set amid a landscape of prone, twitching, sleeping bodies. But Naharin's reckless, lunging choreographic style gets samey after a while. I kept wanting it to mean something – but it stubbornly yielded nothing.

In the second half the dreamscape gets kinky, with half a dozen dancers transformed into bare-buttocked, thigh-booted angels on stilts, striding the earth like avenging powers. There is an African-style knees-up of hooded monks. And a wacky story about a Chinese princess, narrated by the two musicians in made-up Euro-lingo. In short, the piece turns into a series of elaborate cabaret skits, culminating in a full-company, bare-bottomed dance number with everyone humming the Hebrew equivalent of "Frere Jacques" in canon, while the industrial scrap goes into overdrive doing themes from Ravel's Bolero. Tongue in cheek? Oh no. Pure entertainment.

j.gilbert@independent.co.uk

Comments