The Associates, Sadler’s Wells, review: A crisp, unsettling duet

Chu and Anne Plamondon give lucid performances of a fine and unpredictable dance

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The Independent Culture

Crystal Pite to the rescue! The Canadian choreographer’s A Picture of You Falling is the gem of this programme of works by associate artists of Sadler’s Wells. A crisp, unsettling duet, it outshines Kate Prince’s limp SMILE and Hofesh Shechter’s messy the barbarians in love.

Pite, the most recent addition to the London dance venue’s list of associates, made a sensational impact last year with The Tempest Replica and the extraordinary, seething Polaris. A Picture of You Falling is a smaller, more intimate work. Created for Pite’s own company, Kidd Pivot, in 2008, it unpacks the drama of movement.

In a semi-circle of bright lamps, two dancers move through complex, fluid steps. Sometimes a light is moved by a figure in shadow, a situation changing in ways we can’t quite see. A cool female voice comments on the action. “This is you,” she says, as Peter Chu falls to the ground. “Knees, hip, elbow, head. This is the sound of your heart hitting the floor.”

Spoken with chilly detachment by Kate Strong, Pite’s text never tells stories, doesn’t add interpretation. It simply describes the facts, while loss, need, decision and heartbreak come twisting out of the steps themselves. The dancers turn and turn back, wrapping around each other but keeping a slight distance. There’s no explicit storytelling – which only underlines the way human bodies can’t help showing human feelings. The more abstract the description, the more emotion we see in the moves. Chu and Anne Plamondon give lucid performances of a fine and unpredictable dance.

SMILE is – oh dear – a 30-minute solo inspired by Charlie Chaplin. Directed by Kate Prince, another associate, but choreographed and danced by Tommy Franzén, it staggers through evocations of Chaplin and the blandest tears-of-a-clown clichés. Franzén’s a marvellous dancer, but he can’t save his weak concept. Lavish over-production does nothing to help.

Shechter’s the barbarians in love has another chilly female voiceover, recorded by Natascha McElhone. Against a soundtrack of baroque string music and electronic hums, six dancers emerge from the haze of Lee Curran’s lighting. The voiceover gives them numbered lessons, urging control and repression. The dancers shift from weighted contemporary moves to clean ballet positions – a reminder that Shechter is exploring a new style, and will be creating a work for The Royal Ballet later this season.

Having set up this dynamic, the piece loses its way. The voice starts teasing its choreographer – “It’s not all about you, Hofesh” – but his rambling replies suggest a mid-life crisis, as he waffles about innocence, insists he wants to avoid cliché and finally confesses to infidelity.

Shechter’s recorded voice is deliberately inarticulate, but joking about self-indulgence doesn’t stop him falling right into it. The voice has already described “dancing naked in front of a crowd” as the height of embarrassment, so it’s no surprise that Shechter makes his dancers do just that. Staring out at us, they shuffle back into the darkness.

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