London International Mime Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

If there ever really was a time when mime inevitably meant a white face and a grimace, then the London International Mime Festival has wiped its memory clean. This year's programme, the festival's 28th, veers further than ever into physical theatre and performance art, and its opening show, from Toulouse-based Compagnie 111, eludes even these loose categories. More or Less Infinity is part of a trilogy exploring spatial concepts, and its sensational first 10 minutes offers what can best be described as a gravity defying dance for 78 metre-long poles, whizzed along invisible wires to create dazzling 3-D snowflake designs, hovering in black space, or ranks of speeding witches' broomsticks. It's not so much a feat of performance as of remarkable engineering.

Where previous visits from 111 have offered playful musings on the cube and the plane, this piece concerns itself with line - and not just line as expressed in a linear path. One of the show's more comical stretches challenges the six performers to perambulate by means of a simple stick. Pole-vaulting I could have guessed at, and pogo-ing, but bending the thing into a U-shape and rocking along is ingenious, and stilt-walking without a foot-hold looks impossible, as well as funny.

A feature of this company's work is the way it reduces its human components to mere props while exalting fantastic hardware. Yet superb skill is involved at every turn in this deft succession of acts, each blending seamlessly into the next. Refreshingly, too, there is no attempt to obscure how effects are achieved. In a sketch where disembodied hands and feet, and later a head, glide spookily along slats in the floor, it's clear that there are whole bodies underneath. It's how they move with conveyor-belt smoothness that's a mystery.

The show also has fun with shadow and refraction, bouncing coloured light off the surface of poles to create unexpected patterns and effects - a field of gold and black bamboo one moment, a cemetery in red neon the next. Yet the most appealing gag of all was one that - in theory - anyone could try at home. Take a blank wall, cunningly positioned lights and two people each holding a different pose, and, hey presto, you have two static shadows merging into a single figure in motion. Like all the best tricks, discovering the secret doesn't diminish the wonder.

The London Mime Festival, various venues, to 29 Jan (020 7637 5661, www.mimefest.co.uk)

jenny.gilbert@independent.co.uk

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