Wolf, Sadler's Wells, London

A truly dog-awful spectacle
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The Independent Culture

The Belgian company Les Ballets C de la B's Wolf lasted two hours and 15 minutes, without interval. It was also terrible. Posturing dance-theatre must be in fashion in Belgium. This year, London audiences have been treated to Blush (the one with the on-stage frog) and C de la B's Foi (September 11 maunderings, with a woman in Stars-and-Stripes boxing gloves).

The Belgian company Les Ballets C de la B's Wolf lasted two hours and 15 minutes, without interval. It was also terrible. Posturing dance-theatre must be in fashion in Belgium. This year, London audiences have been treated to Blush (the one with the on-stage frog) and C de la B's Foi (September 11 maunderings, with a woman in Stars-and-Stripes boxing gloves).

Blush and Foi featured shouting, stripping and audience confrontation. Wolf, directed by Alain Platel, had the worst of both: weak politics and livestock. Let's start with the dogs. There were 14: one on a lead, one (a chihuahua) stuffed down a swimming-costume, and another 12 wandering about on stage throughout the performance.

During athletic and trapeze scenes, the dogs were herded into a chicken-wire enclosure at the back of the stage. Two of them spent half of the performance humping - equitably enough, taking turns at mounting each other. It was the funniest thing in the show, and at least they were enjoying themselves. Another scene was distressing for dog and audience. A dancer wound a leash round a small dog's back legs; it kept kicking itself free. Then he put the dog into an upturned crash helmet, and spun it around. The audience murmured over the leash, and started shouting when he got to the crash helmet. The dancer backed down, and the dog trotted off.

Platel's show staggered over its running time, wandering from set piece to set piece. His performers came from different countries and different backgrounds: circus, theatre, street-dance, ballet. Bert Neumann's multi-level set built the dog compound into a street scene, with shop-fronts, posters and metal shutters. A silk trapeze hung over the stage; dancers played at fire-eating on the roof. The musicians of Klangforum Wien sat upstairs, occasionally joining the action.

Sylvain Cambreling's arrangements of Mozart were grimly whimsical, with extra oompahs and random percussion. Three singers got dragged into the action. In the first scene, a woman burbled in German to the audience - or a kind of German. Words jumped out: "Häagen-Dazs" and "Ich bin Laden". She had gusto and 1980s big hair, with shocking-pink gloves and skirt. Then she started shouting abuse in English: "Macrobiotic, vegetarian bitch!" Some of her invective was funny, but she rambled on too long.

The company's men got into drag or fancy dress, posing and simulating sex while the singers cooed over them. All the dancers, ballet-trained or not, tried out arabesques and jumps. A man was squeezed into a tulle skirt and wings. Playing at ballet, these performers were deliberately affected. They looked oddly resentful.

Then there was the patriotic scene. The performers sang their own national anthems, waving different flags. At last, two flags were set on fire. Or rather, two flag substitutes. Platel lost his nerve, and burnt blank white banners instead. After trying hard to shock, Wolf revealed a treacly streak. The performers started explaining how much music means to them. The trapeze girl demonstrated by swinging slowly on her silk ropes. It was would-be lyricism, soft-focus schmaltz.

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