Moving Africa, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

This is the second year of Moving Africa, the Barbican's African dance showcase. Again, the emphasis is on contemporary dance, on the current wave of new African companies.

This is the second year of Moving Africa, the Barbican's African dance showcase. Again, the emphasis is on contemporary dance, on the current wave of new African companies.

This programme starts with post-Bausch dance theatre, and ends with a response to urban development. "Ti Chelbe" is a dance theatre duet by Kettly Noel, a Haitian choreographer who trained in France and is now based in Mali. She plays a woman in crisis, dashing from smiles to rage. Noel rattles around the stage of The Pit theatre, bouncing off the corrugated iron walls of the set. Her partner, Marius Moguiba, stands watching her.

The Bausch qualities come from the costumes and the confrontations. Noel is dressed in what looks like all her underwear at once - half a dozen bras, several petticoats, and more bras round her waist. Moguiba is more simply in T-shirt and trousers, until Noel rips off the T-shirt and hits him with it.

The music, on tape, goes from pop to brass fanfares. At one point Moguiba struts forward with a disco flourish, swaggering through his steps. It's the danciest moment in "Ti Chelbe", and the brightest. The rest of this duet is all grappling, fights, and embraces.

Noel leaps onto Moguiba's shoulders, beaming as she clambers all over him. He keeps catching her by her spiky hair. They crouch down, side by side, and smack the floor, scrabbling for space. When they stop, they're caught with linked arms and smile-for-the-camera faces.

Noel and Moguiba are charismatic performers, and they battle away with energy. At 40 minutes, though, this is a particularly long confrontation.

In "Buddu", by the Burkina Faso group Compagnie Ta, three men fight for space. It starts with a man on a straw mat, and two others lying at his feet. The mat isn't quite unrolled: it curls back over the first man's feet, however much he pushes it back.

Auguste Anselme and Idriss Ouedrago, the choreographers of Compagnie Ta, explain that this work is about changing identity, the past and present of a community.

The three dancers launch themselves into stamping, turning, dances, or fall to the floor and struggle, skidding this way and that on the straw mat. Dust flies up as they scuffle. Steps and costumes mix traditional and modern-dance elements. Martine Some dresses the dancers in loose trousers, with harness tops and straw belts.

Like "Ti Chelbe", "Buddu" is too long. Still, Ouedrago's steps can be muscular and clear. He and his two dancers ripple the muscles of their shoulders and backs, then plunge into stamping dances. One man jumps back into another's arms, landing with both legs kicked high. There are jitterbug lifts, and dancers rolling over each other's backs. The piece ends where it begins: struggle over, they return to the mat and to the opening pose.

The music is full of drummed rhythms. There are flutes on a taped soundtrack, and live percussion from the musician Mamasou Kienou.

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