The Centaur and the Animal, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Horses! The Centaur and the Animal, UK debut by celebrated rider Bartabas, has four of them up on stage. But it also has swathes of dimly lit posturing, with a pompous voiceover and slow-motion butoh writhing. There's equestrian skill here, but even more self-indulgence.

For his first London appearance, Bartabas has chosen an intimate work, a collaboration with Ko Muobushi, a leading performer in the Japanese style butoh.

Murobushi opens the performance, sitting on top of an upright piano in front of a white gauze curtain. Murobushi, dressed in a suit but painted silver all over, gradually slides down from the piano, clattering against the keys. He inches his way across the front of the stage. When the gauze drops, the stage is in darkness behind him. We can just see the animals, moving in darkness.

It's a long time before we see anything else. Bartabas spent a year training these four horses for The Centaur and the Animal, teaching them to breathe more slowly, to cope with the glacial pace and stillness of the work. It's both impressive and dull. For the excruciating voiceover, William Nadylam gives an over-dramatic reading from "Maldoror", by the surrealist poet Lautréamont.

Bartabas rides horses back and forth, eventually dismounting. A black horse nibbles at his bare arms and hands as he stands in a spotlight. A white horse repeatedly falls to the packed-earth floor, shaking him off its back.

In the best moment, Bartabas stands in front of a horse, his own head bowed under its chin. Under Françoise Michel's lighting, they look like one creature. Reaching up to touch the sides of the long horse face, Bartabas pets what seem to be his own ears. It's a great image, a moment where human and animal blend.

It's stronger because it's precarious. The horse's ears twitch as he strokes them. At any moment, even these highly trained animals might step out of character.