Dancing the light vandango

Bahia Ballet | Peacock Theatre, London
Click to follow

Contemporary dance these days is so preoccupied with the right-on themes of gender stereotyping, sexual orientation and disability that anything else comes across as almost a novelty. So, welcome to Bahia Ballet, which fuels its dance with concerns that are spiritual and visionary.

Contemporary dance these days is so preoccupied with the right-on themes of gender stereotyping, sexual orientation and disability that anything else comes across as almost a novelty. So, welcome to Bahia Ballet, which fuels its dance with concerns that are spiritual and visionary.

Presented as part of the Brazil 500 festival, Bahia Ballet was founded in 1981 in Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia. The dancers, all Brazilian, come from a country where cultures and races form a rich blended mix, where African slaves fused Catholicism with their own deities to produce the Afro-Brazilian cult called candomblé, prevalent in Bahia.

Sanctus Suite, the company's long-established (1985) signature piece by the Argentine choreographer Luis Arrieta, mirrors this heritage and underlines the fact with music by David Fanshawe. Juxtaposing sacred chorales with traditional African songs and sounds, the composer seems to have adapted his African Sanctus, which some of us remember as a classical pop-hit 20 years ago. The dance alternates groups with solos and trios, and a duet in which the man acts as porteur, lifting his female partner in complicated angles and planes with scarcely a wobble from his over-strained pectorals. The piece's images - forests of arms reaching upwards, a cloud of dry ice, a bolt of cloth unravelled - have deep spiritual significance of the indeterminate sort. But the programme tells us we are watching the relationship between God and Man, and, anyway, the dancers perform with palpable fervour.

Gosh, what a handsome bunch they are, if you don't object to scantily clothed, tensile silhouettes (and who could?). They are a medley of all colours, some red-haired or blond, some black-skinned, some oriental. There is something viscerally thrilling about amassed dancers punching you in the eye with unison modern-dance movement, pounding across the stage on the pulse of the music. There is plenty of that in Sanctus and in the last piece, Tindaro Silvano's Paradox, premiered a few months ago. At first, Paradox's dancing multitude could be seen as sunk in a black inferno, a dire warning about too much sex and nicotine. But no! By the end they seemed to be celebrating, and if this confusing piece is saying that vices are good for you, then I'm all for it.

But it was Arrieta's Noch Einmal (German for "once again"), deploying a much smaller cast, that most impressed me. A visual equivalent of Philip Glass's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in its repeated ebb and flow of travelling dancers, Noch Einmal is another hermetic piece. Yet it is gripping in its intensity, and cumulatively you begin to sense a meaning in the way the dancers are transfixed by something before them. The object of their fascinated terror gradually emerges - a man, no different from them, as harmlessly naked as a baby. Once confronted, it seems that the thing you fear most is too familiar to be dangerous.

* To 23 Sept (020-7863 8222)

Comments