Connect Transfer, Barbican
Transports Exceptionnels, Jubilee Gardens, London
Early in Connect Transfer, which comes to the Barbican as part of Dance Umbrella, the dancers start folding themselves into poses. But however tangled, the positions are boldly articulated, the lines clean. With choreographers, the basic sign of talent is that they can get their dancers to move well. Connect Transfer is often dry, but the dancing is always lucid.
Choreographer Shen Wei was born in China, where he trained in Chinese opera and then modern dance. He moved to New York in 1995, though he is due to return to China to work on the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics.
In Connect Transfer, he designs sets and costumes as well as choreography. Everything is plain and grave, deliberately modest. The dancers move coolly into position. When they partner up in coiling moves, they suggest geometry rather than human emotion – but it's precisely realised.
Shen Wei's central device is to give his dancers gloves or socks dipped in paint. As they move, they draw curlicues across the white floor. But it isn't splashy: it's calligraphy rather than action painting.
The music is Kevin Volans's sixth string quartet, played on tape. Then the pianist Stephen Gosling plays pieces by Ligeti. It's lyrical, but it does little to soften the general austerity.
Nobody breaks through the restraint of Connect Transfer, but the piece builds up light, shade and comedy. It starts out dry and ends up individual, without apparently changing gear.
It's one thing to see rippling arms from human dancers, but over on the South Bank, there were sensuous ports de bras from a big mechanical digger. As part of Dance Umbrella, the French Compagnie Beau Geste brought Transports Exceptionnels, an adorable duet for man and machine.
Philippe Priasso flirts and quarrels with his mechanised partner, who scoops him up and swoops him heavenwards. The timing is a delight. Priasso's air of noble restraint makes this strangely touching: Wallace and Gromit meets Brief Encounter. It ends with Priasso nestled in the digger's scoop, and with big silly grins throughout the audience.
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