Three Atmospheric Studies, Sadler's Wells, London

1.00

Anti-war dance trips over itself

William Forsythe is angry. Three Atmospheric Studies, the first work this American choreographer made for his new company after leaving the Frankfurt Ballet, deals with the Iraq war, with the suffering of civilians. This political engagement is new, but Forsythe's methods are familiar, his points made through movement, fractured storytelling, layers of deliberate incoherence. Much of it is dull. When it does come into focus, it's simplistic.

Curiously, Forsythe's images of war are less extreme than his pure dance choreography. After the straining joints and extreme positions of his "ballet ballets", Three Atmospheric Studies often looks casual, if not quite laid-back. The dancers of Forsythe's own company are fast, hard-working, committed.

"My son was arrested," says Jone San Martin at the start. Then this 18-strong company rush through different groupings, silent apart from gasps of breath. Every so often, they freeze into tableaux. You have to know what you're looking for to recognise the moment of arrest, the impact of an explosion. Even then, you could miss them. As they bustle from pose to pose, Forsythe's dancers might be a movement class evoking rush hour.

In the second study, San Martin tries to tell her story to an interpreter. He picks at her words, urges her to hurry up, until she protests that he doesn't understand. At the same time, David Kern potters about, murmuring and taking poses. It becomes clear that he's describing images - pictures that we can't see, though some of them are hung up in the foyer. One is a Cranach crucifixion, another a scene of devastation in Iraq. Kern describes billowing smoke, clouds, lines and colours.

This is tanztheater, after Pina Bausch: people who don't or won't understand each other, at length, in non-naturalistic style. But the images aren't particularly vivid or expressive. The strongest is San Martin's lament. She jumps up to express her angst, screeching and staggering, her voice electronically distorted. While the sound effects make this harsher, they also distance us from her.

The third part is the most explicit, and the crudest. Kern stands by a wall, pointing out details of a painted cloud study. After some minutes, his words are drowned out, as Ander Zabala starts growling into a microphone, gargling and crowing, inarticulacy drowning out words. He sounds like an alien from a Star Wars movie. In a quieter moment, Kern starts to describe the aftermath of an explosion. When he mentions a rocket, a crater, the other dancers are knocked to the ground, acting out his words. When they fall against the wall, it echoes with the sound of explosions.

At last there's some urgency on stage, but it's framed by reductive devices. The slight, blonde Dana Caspersen mouths along to a male voiceover, which spouts self-seeking platitudes: "Apart from the ongoing state of emergency, ma'am, there is no cause for alarm." The accent is from the American South - is it Texan?

There are Europeans who want to see Americans as stupid; this time, it's a New York choreographer telling the joke. You don't have to approve of US foreign policy to find this lazy. That long speech doesn't establish a character for the voiceover. The writing just underlines the smug contradictions it has created for its enemy. Forsythe gives us the simplifications of caricature, without its energy and bite.

And caricature spreads to the whole subject. Forsythe's admirers have hailed Three Atmospheric Studies as a breakthrough for political choreography, as a work that proves that dance can take on these issues. Yet these images lack the force of a good political cartoon, with the choreographer's games and practices switching attention away from the devastation he wants to evoke. All that fragmentation might have heightened our sense of unease, of horror. Instead, it blurs and blunts it.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor