Moving Africa, Barbican, London

Slow steps from Africa
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The Independent Culture

Charismatic dancers can lift weak choreography: Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro stand shaking, shudders running right through their bodies from contracting torsos to fluttering hands. One struts forward with his shirt pulled over his head, suddenly foppish enough to make the audience laugh. It's dancing that would make the piece more memorable if it weren't for the dull stretches in between.

Charismatic dancers can lift weak choreography: Salia Sanou and Seydou Boro stand shaking, shudders running right through their bodies from contracting torsos to fluttering hands. One struts forward with his shirt pulled over his head, suddenly foppish enough to make the audience laugh. It's dancing that would make the piece more memorable if it weren't for the dull stretches in between.

The Salia ni Seydou company performed as part of Moving Africa, a triple bill of award-winning African dance at the Barbican. The three companies are from different countries, but share a thinness of choreography: ideas are stretched too far, or padded with long silences.

Salia ni Seydou's Figninto (The Torn Eye) was the best of the works. Sanou and Boro are dancer-choreographers from Burkina Faso. Boro's movement career started with football; Sanou danced for Mathilde Monnier and has a background in theatre and traditional African music and dance.

Figninto is a study of literal and metaphorical blindness, meandering and much too long. The company's dancers are impressive. When three men drop to the floor in something like a "hear no evil" pose, their intense focus and sharp elbows make it striking. From a languid stance, one man will hurl himself into another's arms, arriving on a drumbeat. The action follows and abandons the music, African flutes, musical bow and drums played by Tao Irisso and Dramane Diabaté. One scene comes close to a jazz session. The three dancers sit, legs straight out, swapping rhythms with the musicians in vocal clicks, whirrs, and gurgles. They accent beats with odd sitting jumps, pushing off with their hands to lift legs and buttocks off the floor.

That heaving move is intriguing and funny, but the scene breaks off just as the rhythms get interesting. There's a limit to what you can do with seated jumps.

The South African dancer Vincent Mantsoe grew up in a family of traditional Zulu healers before studying Afrofusion and contemporary dance. Barena (Chiefs) is a long solo that shows off his force as a dancer.

Mantsoe turns a staff in his hand to make it a spear - not because he raises or throws it, but because his shoulder clenches, tenses and readies to attack. He rocks back and forth, swinging his arms, or paces grandly about the stage. But this is almost all he does, and it's a long solo. There's no structure to carry us onward.

When the taped music changes from Madosini's drumming to Satie, Mantsoe has been dancing for some minutes. It's an endurance test, and he choreographs exhaustion, his knees shaking. He groans, collapses, drools. Why dance this to Satie? Should we see it as a transcendent state, or a reaction against the music?

Company Rary's Mpirahalahy Mianala (Several Form One) is about meetings, dancers changed by encounters. Ariry Andriamoratsiresy's choreography is influenced by Indian and African dance, but both are swamped by his interest in t'ai chi. He takes poses from Indian dance, but not rhythms or structure.

Two men lie face down, arching slowly up and then down again. Women slowly flap their arms, hands crooked. For all the choreographer's avowed interest in meetings, these dancers rarely change: they go on their way with the same slow self-absorption.

The brightest moment is a shuffling duet, with two dancers inching in sideways before regrouping to move forward. But the sad thing is that these dances don't give the tiptoeing steps full value. They're fine in the sustained t'ai chi poses, but there's no energy to the moving footwork.

To Saturday (0845 120 7515)

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