Their art belongs to Dada

Sasha Pepelyaev's Kinetic Theatre | Lillian Baylis Theatre, London
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Because ballet and Russia are so closely wedded together, we tend to assume that anything else is roistering folk dance, which the Russians do impeccably. Mention contemporary dance and we might respond with a faint superior smile that this is still in its infancy in Russia, and therefore derivative and dated.

Because ballet and Russia are so closely wedded together, we tend to assume that anything else is roistering folk dance, which the Russians do impeccably. Mention contemporary dance and we might respond with a faint superior smile that this is still in its infancy in Russia, and therefore derivative and dated.

But Sasha Pepelyaev's Kinetic Theatre, on their second Dance Umbrella visit, are powerful proof otherwise. They may be a rarity in Russia but they not only have a grammar that is as up-to-the-minute as any Western counterpart, they have a vision that is unique.

Unique, but disconcerting. A Kinetic piece, of which there were two on the programme, is a motley construct, assembling fragmentary movement and speech and a car-boot collection of props. The speech is in Russian, which is eventually translated but in any case has only oblique bearing on the action. So when Pepelyaev himself opens Not There with a floor-hugging solo danced to his own gruff narration about citizen Kuzhnetsov, hit on the head by falling bricks, the subsequent dancing by the other four performers contains only echoes, if at all, of the story. Instead, they dance to music by Bach, their movement a graceful perpetuum mobile of unison and counterpoint into which filter deadpan parody and clichés.

Pepelyaev crouches in a corner whispering (I think) instructions like an over-anxious choreographer, while the dancers strive to obey, until one girl briefly rebels, kicking Pepelyaev on his butt. They perform before two audiences, us in front, and a painted audience at the back who clap with mechanical wooden hands at the end.

Perhaps we should see the dancers as being on the Stage of Life, but who knows. Best just to accept the hermeticism, settle back and enjoy the vivid sparks ignited by the friction of disparate elements.

In Qu'est-ce qu'une ulve?, the company, dressed in assorted rejects, seem like travelling players, moving in front or behind a net curtain. Ulve is a species of seaweed and relates to another story, told at the end; but again, none of it openly connects with the solos and group dances to a polyglot selection of songs.

The choreography, invented out of the company's collective imagination, is freewheeling and sensuous, transmitted with infectious verve and humour. The Russians are kinetic Dadaists, setting into motion rag-bag components to create an illogical, elusive poetry. It plugs into the subconscious layers of your mind and offers a revitalising experience.

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