Crystal Pite, Sadler's Wells, London

Catch a falling star and grab a bargain to boot. Blink and you'll miss an unrepeatable, gravity-defying leap
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The Independent Culture

What price a leap in the dark? About the same as a round of drinks, thinks the management of Sadler's Wells.

The theatre's Debut series – a new venture that features artists with a serious profile abroad but unknown here – is taking a punt on the lure of a bargain. A mere £10 buys any seat in the house, including spots that normally sell for five times that amount (worth comparing with top price for Ben Hur at the O2, of £115). The only snag is that the Sadler's Wells product comes unsung by any- one but the Wells. But how risky can that be?



The dancer-choreographer Crystal Pite is from Canada, and she's a big fish there. She has also been warmly embraced by northern Europe – Nederlands Dans Theater, Sweden's Cullberg Ballet, Ballet Frankfurt – so it's time the UK dance audience caught up. The question is whether a stage as vast or an auditorium as barn-like as Sadler's Wells is the best place to do it. For me, the polish and subtlety of Pite's work begs for more intimacy.



Pite's company, the curiously named Kidd Pivot, is just seven-strong, including Pite. Many of the dancers have a classical training, as evidenced by the women's willowy limbs and tensile strength, but they hide it skilfully, striking a wholly contemporary note with uncommon refinement and bodies pliant as paper. Think William Forsythe with a woman's touch, drawn more to beauty than its opposite, yet willing to investigate discomfiting things – the death of loved ones, loss, benightedness.



That said, the opening scenes bristle with signs of a world made dangerous by men. To the distant strains of some jingoistic stadium chant and the booms of a receding military tattoo, a ragged crocodile of male revellers clutch and tug at one other, fall about drunkenly, and fail to notice that one of their number remains fallen, deathly still. In the quickness of life we are in death. That this truth is ungraspable becomes Pite's motif.



A remarkable feature of Lost Action, for thus the piece is called, is its ability to summon realms of mordant feeling solely through the manipulation of bodies, light and sound. The stage is blank other than a textured backcloth. The dancers are dressed as they might be on a Montreal street. The attractive score (Owen Belton) is largely a collage of speech snippets, human breath, sounds of harsh weather and stray whistled melodies. "Haunted" is an overworked word, but this does tend that way.



Sudden flourishes of virtuosity or felicity flash by. This choreographer, like a canny magician, won't indulge us by repeating them. A prone dancer draws gasps by propelling himself diagonally through the air like a jump jet, but we catch this gravity-defying act only once. A woman's lifted feet twitch in sync like a rabbit's ears. Another – Pite herself, tall and blond – stretches a leg into high extension, then lowers it slowly, her foot fluttering like a falling leaf, an image that glimmers in the memory like a pleasing thought.



And yet I would be pushed to say that Crystal Pite's UK debut left me wanting more, right then and there. In truth, given its concentrated spareness, Lost Action had delivered its freight in under an hour, and the remaining quarter dragged. (I find the BlackBerry test a fairly accurate indicator: once someone in your row starts checking their mail, you know the material has run its course.)



One image, though, plays again and again in my head on a loop. Pite evidently likes loops, since this idea was spookily circular in itself. Four men are on stage; one sinks to his knees and apparently dies; the others, concerned, gently stoop to lift him and in doing so, mysteriously, and so smoothly that you never see how, revive the dead man only to replace him with a corpse from among their number. And so it goes on, as the final thread of light expires.

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