Les Noces/Cantata, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Compagnia Aterballetto made its Sadler's Wells debut with two energetically dreary ballets.

Compagnia Aterballetto made its Sadler's Wells debut with two energetically dreary ballets. These should be contrasting works: a minimalist Stravinsky staging, and a would-be earthy southern-Italian knees-up. Both are bloodless.

Unusually for an Italian company, Aterballetto is not tied to an opera house. It's a contemporary ballet company, now directed by the choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti. In Britain, Bigonzetti is known for his Forsythe-influenced work for English National Ballet; he has also made works for the Kirov and New York City Ballet. His own dancers are athletic, flexible, well-drilled.

Les Noces is one of Stravinsky's greatest scores, filled with driving percussive rhythms. Here it's on tape, but it still has quite an impact. In Bigonzetti's version, the dancing dawdles alongside. Bigonzetti isn't interested in ritual. He and his dramaturge, Nicola Lusuardi, set out to question the idea of marriage, suggesting lost freedom or suffocated love. But they fail to account for the music's furious energy. Bigonzetti wonders about commitment, and never gets his teeth into those rhythms. The dancers are arranged in ranks; put through wriggling duets and solos. They move with focus and attack, but this choreography just isn't going anywhere.

In Cantata, Bigonzetti sets out to be life-affirming. The Gruppo Musicale Assurd, four women with groaning voices, tambourines and an accordion, play southern-Italian folk tunes. The dancers are clearly "the People": men wear braces with their work trousers; women stand with braced legs far apart.

Again, there's a lack of energy. The music is not lively: there seems to be a lot of wailing and commiserating going on. The piece starts with singers and dancers in a block, shuffling forward in dim light. As in Les Noces, Carlo Cerri's lighting goes from stark to subdued. If this is a celebration, why are they all so gloomy? And if it isn't, haven't they anything better to do? Rhythms are slack, and there's no real swagger to dances. Bigonzetti's staging suggests folk dance, but doesn't deliver.

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