Dance review: Justitia, Peacock Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

Jasmin Vardimon’s Justitia revolves around a murder trial – literally revolves, as Merle Hensel’s set rotates to take us from court room to crime scene. With each turn, the show plays out a different aspect of the case, replaying and rewinding the death from different angles.

Born in Israel but based in London since 1997, Vardimon mixes dance with physical theatre and text, often with a political edge. Justitia, created in 2007, shows the mix at its strongest. The zigzagging storyline reminds us how information can be twisted by context. Aoi Nakamura’s Mimi meets Luke Burrough’s Charlie, in a duet wound up in the folds of a carpet. It’s sweetly romantic, but we’re wondering what and how will go wrong. That rug will turn up as evidence.

With the trial underway, Nakamura gives a mercurial performance as the accused. Playing the same actions as a schemer, an unfaithful wife or in self-defence, she treats her husband’s friend with matey camaraderie or sexual tension. Mafalda Deville’s defending lawyer keeps cutting in, objecting to each as a twist of the facts, trying to reshape the story for the jury and the audience.

As the friend, and corpse, Paul Blackman has some of the best material. Alive or dead, he pops up out of nowhere, often against gravity, usually in mid-sentence. He leads (and bullies) manic group therapy sessions, with a swagger that goes from cruel to cheery.

The whole cast jump on and over their chairs in driving unison numbers, climbing the walls to express their trains of thought. Everyday movement opens out into jumps and wrestling partnering, muscular and tough.

Justitia can be baggy, with multiplying side-tracks and stylised setpieces. Vardimon’s own recurring solo, a woman typing, slows down the action. Deville’s memory of a car accident is touchingly played, but seems to have wandered in from another show. Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s script is sometimes sharp, sometimes wordy, very determined to set up Biblical parallels.

Vardimon’s finest scenes are cleverly layered. Attacking a witness’s testimony, the lawyer works her like a puppet in a sexist character-assassination. The gender assumptions are more pointed because Deville is a woman while the witness is danced by Estéban Fourmi, a man in drag. Throughout, Vardimon’s dancers are athletic and heartfelt, distinctive in movement and characterisation.

Until 22 September. Box office 0844 412 4300