Yesterday, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Yesterday starts with a woman fishing. Rod in hand, she rises above a slope made from strips of cloth, which stretch down from the back of the stage. As the lights brighten, we see she is standing on the feet of another dancer, who lies on his back with his legs in the air: half-support, half-reflection.

Yesterday is a composite work, created to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Jasmin Vardimon's company. It is both a retrospective and a work about memory. Vardimon puts highlights from past works into a new frame, with new choreography and video sequences. Those strips of cloth fall back to become a screen.

Vardimon, born in Israel, is now an associate artist at Sadler's Wells. She is part of a generation of politically engaged Israeli choreographers that includes Hofesh Shechter. Her dance theatre tends to take on big subjects: illness and medicine in Lullaby, the legal system in Justitia. Yesterday, one of her most popular works, had a sold-out London run last year.

One of the best scenes presents cancer treatment in terms of a pillow fight. A consultant figure explains how treatment attacks the body as well as the disease – while socking the patient with a pillow. "The body fights back," he says. She does. It's a clever, comic scene, the patient struggling with her illness and with the whole process of her cure.

Other flashbacks are weaker. In a rabble-rousing speech, a man attacks xenophobia while waving flags, or defends freedom of speech but not, he adds with plenty of swear words, bad language. The jokes are highly predictable.

When Vardimon moves away from words and drama, she tends to add an absurd edge. In one funny sequence, the dancers stand with their backs to the audience, skirts or trousers rolled down enough to show bum cleavage. Then they wiggle in unison, fast and silly. Elsewhere, they bounce on a trampoline, then on the floor, making quick, twitchy patterns.

Film and video scenes are scattered through Yesterday. A video screen marks transition points. It is trundled across the stage, dancers appearing or vanishing behind it. Then it becomes part of the action. A woman shoots a man in front of it. He falls to the ground but his green-lit shadow remains on the screen. A second man writes messages around it: "remember", "forget". The words, and the green silhouette, slowly fade.

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