Palermo, Palermo, Sadler's Wells, London

Dirty dancing among the breeze blocks
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The Independent Culture

Pina Bausch's Palermo, Palermo starts with thundering spectacle. The curtain goes up on a high, blank wall of golden brown bricks. We stare at it for a moment, and then it falls - the whole wall, crashing to the ground in clouds of dust. They're real breeze blocks, and they leave the stage covered in real rubble.

Pina Bausch's Palermo, Palermo starts with thundering spectacle. The curtain goes up on a high, blank wall of golden brown bricks. We stare at it for a moment, and then it falls - the whole wall, crashing to the ground in clouds of dust. They're real breeze blocks, and they leave the stage covered in real rubble.

This isn't the only knockout image in Palermo, Palermo . Red earth falls in thin showers. Five pianists grind out a tune as the backdrop, a glowing photograph of a clouded sky, swings from side to side. Huge branches, thick with blossom, are lowered to the stage. The trouble is, we have to wait so long for such moments.

Bausch is famous for her dance theatre, a distinctive combination of movement, speech and frantic activity. She can produce vividly surreal images, characterful nonsense. This 1989 show is the mixture as before, but its antics are stretched thin.

Too many scenes are flat. A man walks on, his face painted black. He holds a lighted cigarette, and keeps ducking away from the smoke. Lines of dancers march across the stage, scattering handfuls of clothes and food. It makes a lot of mess, but the random activity is oddly blank. Bausch dancers are often manic, sometimes funny or arch; here they look almost bored. The pace slows.

One man keeps going to a wardrobe at the side of the stage, dressing up in drag or producing odd props. He cuts slices from a steak tied to his arm, then cooks them on a hot iron. The same man dons a crown of cigarettes, and lifts a candle in a Statue of Liberty pose, casting predatory glances at the front row. It's not unsettling: the weirdness looks routine.

Then he announces an interval. The lights go up, but his colleagues go on twitching, running around, parading across the stage. The audience sits dutifully watching, even as the lights go up.

There are some funny moments. A woman walks on, clutching a packet of dried spaghetti. This is her spaghetti, she explains, she won't share it. She plucks out single pieces of pasta, exclaiming: "This is mine! And this! And this!" with ferocious gusto. Another woman takes photographs as her partner flips her in a cartwheel.

As in Nelken , seen at Sadler's Wells last week, the women of Bausch's Tanztheater Wuppertal teeter about in fetish heels, changing in and out of evening dress. Clambering over the rubble, they have to walk in a half crouch, knees bent and feet turned awkwardly out.

Bausch often gives her dancers plenty to contend with, but it's surprising how unexpressive this set becomes. Falling, the bricks are astonishing. Once they had landed, I lost interest.

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