Cia de Dança Deborah Colker, Barbican Theatre, London

It's with the circus elements that Cruel, the latest show by Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker, springs into focus. A woman dances with knives, arms thrusting and pointed shoes stabbing. Dancers move between and even through mirrors, until you can't tell which of those clasping, clutching limbs is real, which is a reflection.

Colker's dances range from couple dancing to acrobatics. She often works with big sets; past shows have included a big Ferris wheel or the dividing walls of an apartment building.

The works starts out luxuriously, with dancers in formal dress, under a huge globe light. Set designer Gringo Cardia outlines the globe with delicate crochet tracery. Men and women move in unison blocks, or come together for duets. Larissa Romanowski is the odd one out, trying to push her way into other couple's dances, elbowing the other women aside. Sometimes she'll succeed for a while – one duet becomes a threesome – until she's shrugged off again.

The "cruelty" is emotional, but it takes a while for that imagery to bite. Aline Machado, the knife woman in an equestrienne's corset, urges them on, bringing on her knives, stabbing them into the surface of a table. As she prowls around one couple, their dance gets more manipulative. Slow, supported backbends start to look dangerous. At last the man "kills" his partner, rolling the body into Machado's arms.

In the second half, the performers are surrounded by spinning mirrored panels, with circular holes big enough for a person to crawl through. As the dancers move, their reflections turn. Arms reach out of nowhere, reflections creating bodies that are all legs or needy, grasping hands.

Having set up this distorted, funhouse world, Colker runs out of steps for it. Her dances are padded out, the material losing force through repetition and extension. Even so, Cruel has a striking mix of illusion, relationships and music-hall glamour.





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