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Undance, Sadler’s Wells, London (2/5)


Undance is a big-name collaboration. Choreographer Wayne McGregor, Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger and composer Mark-Anthony Turnage have got together in a work inspired by other artists. It’s a top-heavy evening, with a weight of concepts hanging over a much thinner stage experience.

Wallinger gets squeezed to the edges of this work, sometimes literally. His photographs of United Nations signs – UN – hang in the wings, side on to the audience. The dominant imagery comes from pioneering 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who took multiple still photographs to capture movement.

The set is a grid, like the backdrop of Muybridge’s movement pictures. A screen at the back of the stage shows filmed dancers echoing their live-action selves: sometimes the same, sometimes mirrored or reversed, moving in and out of sync with the physical cast.

McGregor looks both pushed and limited by Wallinger’s structures. His steps are less extreme – fewer upflung legs or joint-popping twists – but also less full-bodied; it’s scrappier dancing.

In the most striking moment, the dancers run in a circle under flickering lights. As the wheeling dancers blink in and out of sight, they look like a zoetrope, the circular device that suggested movement through a series of still pictures. When they break into smaller circles, stepping into the centre and back again, it dilutes the image rather than developing it.

Turnage’s music moves from chugging wind and percussion to longer string lines. It’s atmospheric, full of contrasting textures, but short on momentum. McGregor picks up the changing moods, staging a lyrical section as a slow duet, but he doesn’t dig into the music; it’s a generalised response. Tim Murray conducts a group of musicians brought together for this event.

The evening opens with a performance of Turnage’s chamber opera Twice Through the Heart, directed by McGregor. as the abused wife who murders her husband. Using everyday language, Jackie Kay’s libretto presents an abused wife who murders her husband. Turnage’s setting does little to explore the drama, the character. It chimes and proclaims its own fanfares, with the same mood for the woman’s terror or yearning. Even Sarah Connolly, who sings with clean tone and warm presence, can’t give it much dramatic bite.

McGregor’s staging is dominated by elaborate 3D projections by the OpenEndedGroup. They show everyday items: boots, a bath, blurred figures, complex digital artwork spelling out the basics.

Until 3 December. Box office 0844 412 4300