Near Life Experience, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

I want to say that nothing happens in Ballet Preljocaj's Near Life Experience, but that isn't quite true. The dancers are kept busy with group hugs, costume changes, simulated sex. They tangle string and wave goldfish bowls. What's missing is theatrical impact.

I want to say that nothing happens in Ballet Preljocaj's Near Life Experience, but that isn't quite true. The dancers are kept busy with group hugs, costume changes, simulated sex. They tangle string and wave goldfish bowls. What's missing is theatrical impact.

This is partly deliberate. The choreographer Angelin Preljocaj wants to show the body in extreme states: fainting, orgasm, pain. His dancers move languidly to suggest involuntary movement. The music, by the French band Air, is slow and trippy, full of sea sounds, tinkling chimes and winsome guitar.

How do you convey a tranced state in the theatre? In an interview he mentions a children's game: press your arms against a doorframe for 60 seconds, and they'll float up when you let go. It works, and it feels extra-ordinary. But it just looks like an arm movement. It's the same with Preljocaj's steps. He means to evoke out-of-body experiences, but he fills his stage with unfocused slow motion.

Perpetual slow motion must be exhausting, but the dancers drift smoothly through it. The piece starts with a man sliding from a umpire's chair. He slips between the bars of its high legs, rocks back and forth, and slithers out again. This solo doesn't have a tense moment in it.

Since the dancers are drifting out of their bodies, Preljocaj keeps tying them down. They unwind balls of red wool, bind themselves to each other with threads stretched from mouth to mouth. In one duet, a couple become tangled in a white umbilical rope.

In another scene, a woman stands between three men. She keeps trying to get out from between them, only to find their bodies in the way. There's no sense of urgency, or need for escape. Once or twice she jumps, a darting movement, into a man's arms. Nothing comes of it, and she slides back again.

Preljocaj includes a few pure dance sequences. As the music speeds up, the dancers jump in unison, run across the stage. They're fast and secure and oddly unstylish. There's no line to draw the eye; it's a high-speed drift, deliberately monotonous.

The greatest contrast comes with the clothes, by fashion designer Gilles Rosier. These are artfully distressed shirts and underwear, with dancers getting through several sets each. Patrick Riou's lighting is modestly beautiful. The set, by Preljocaj with Tom Pye, has square paper towers at the sides of the stage, sometimes lit up or covered in shadow.

The mood never breaks, even when Preljocaj turns to pain. The music becomes a crashing heartbeat, and the dancers collapse gradually, flail for a long time, recover gradually. Similarly, the sex scenes are all orgasm and no climax. Near Life Experience avoids development, avoids change. Preljocaj is interested in extreme feeling, but he doesn't know how to communicate it.

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