Zero Degrees is the latest work created at Sadler's Wells, which has started to produce shows as well as present them. The set (uncredited) is a grey gauze box. Sawhney's musicians play behind the backcloth, becoming visible with changes in Mikki Kunttu's lighting. The score blends classical Indian singing, electric bass and violin lines.
Gormley has made two life-sized human sculptures, blank white bodies with closed eyes and detailed faces. The figures are made of soft rubber and articulated, so they can be wrestled into different poses.
The closest collaboration is between the choreographers. Both are concerned with cultural identities: Zero Degrees spends a lot of time at the borders. Khan, born in Britain of Bangladeshi origin, works in both contemporary and Indian classical dance forms. His past work is full of collaborations, often with distinguished artists in other fields. Cherkaoui, born in Antwerp of Moroccan origin, is best known here for his work with Belgian dance theatre company Les Ballets C de la B. Khan dances barefoot, Cherkaoui in sneakers.
Zero Degrees starts with a story, Khan's account of a journey from Bangladesh to India, with trouble at passport control and on the train. The story is casually told, with conversational gestures, in unison. The voices blend, and each flip of the hands is mirrored in a note-perfect performance. There's so much craft that the life falls out of the story.
It's soon clear that Khan is much the better dancer. His hand movements are powered from the shoulder; the lines of his torso are striking. With Cherkaoui, they get blurred. As in his C de la B work, Cherkaoui goes in for choreographic masochism. He yanks himself into gymnastic balances, but the point is the way he falls out of them. If you gasp, it's because you think he'll hurt himself. It makes for banal drama.
In this work, Khan and Cherkaoui take on detailed collaboration and complex subjects. And they won't let you forget it: they don't draw you into a stage world, an image, an argument. It's an ambitious project, but it looks greyly diminished.
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