Bonachela Dance Company, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Barbican, London

This noisy study of memory left me desperate to forget

It's a long time since new technology in contemporary dance was anovelty. Quick to pick up on the possibilities of digital, technophile dance-makers have long been pairing flesh-and-blood dancers with virtual or pixellated ones. At best, these visual tricks have added an intriguing other dimension. At worst, you wish them back in the box, and Pandora's key at the bottom of the sea. Rafael Bonachela's latest show is in that category. Swamped by excessive effects, it's all sound and fury, and mind-numbing overload.

Through a veil of dank smog, to a sound of violent clanking, six half-naked men and women strike portentous poses. Selective lighting makes only some of them, or parts of them, visible. Next, their bodies appearing to vaporise in a series of flickering beams, there's a terrifying sound like a tipper-load of steel being repeatedly dropped on a concrete floor (from this point on many in the audience sat covering their ears). A couple lie down stiffly as if in some last-ditch attempt to reproduce as the apocalypse rumbles on. Others scratch convulsively, or beat rigid fists against their sides. An onstage soprano joins the elegiac onstage cello – there's even a conductor and giant gong up there, glimpsed briefly through the fog – while a lone dancer stands, face covered, convulsively shaking.

According to the choreographer's note, Square Map of Q4 is an attempt to evoke processes of memory. It's left for us to guess that this Q4 has nothing to do with the New York City bus called Q4, or the all-wheel drive system used by Alfa Romeo. Mysteriously, the stage is quartered with white tape. A corresponding chart given in the programme is overprinted with words such as "old age", "childhood", "disaffection", but you soon give up trying to connect these notions with the general sensory blast. At one point, the dancers all put their hands to their mouths. Have they popped a suicide pill? Is this the end of all time and no one wants to be left behind? At the end of 80 minutes, I was almost ready to join them.

The latest offering from the Irish company Fabulous Beast proved equally dismal. Over the past four years, director Michael Keegan-Dolan has been compiling a three-part social portrait of his native Irish midlands, post-consumer boom. The second segment, The Bull, was particularly good, forging a sardonic new narrative genre incorporating speech, song, expressionist dance and savage black comedy. Alas, in tying up the triptych, Keegan-Dolan has lost his way. James, Son of James is – excepting a cruelly funny duet for a middle-aged couple desperate to conceive a child, all thrust and tremulous gymnastics – a limp effort.

Bonachela tour details: bonacheladancecompany.com.
Fabulous Beast tour details: worldwidedanceuk.com

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