Dance Review: A series of moving moments

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Waterzooi

Dance Umbrella: Compagnie Maguy Marin

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

, according to my foodie encyclopaedia, is a Belgian concoction of carp, eel and pike, a sort of mystery soup - the mystery being that anyone eats it. It serves as the title for Maguy Marin's flavoursome 1993 work in which 13 dancers dressed in ecru street clothes (by Montserrat Casanova) explore various human emotions introduced and explained by our narrator who steps into the spotlight periodically to deliver a short lecture.

Analyses of individual feelings are punctuated by ensemble passages in which the dancers stroll across the stage from wing to wing like a slow- motion crowd scene. Each dancer plays one note on a mouth organ and the effect of this bizarre 13 man orchestra has an eerily disembodied air - you can never quite pinpoint the source of the sound. Individuals and pairs emerge from this wheezing mass of humanity to highlight a trait.

Denis Mariotte's music has been ingeniously devised so that the dancers themselves can perform it on rudimentary instruments. The elementary nature of the music - a deliberate and necessary concession to inexpertise - could easily be pretentious and tedious but the playful mix of drum, harmonica, vibraphone and dear little toy piano is very successful at evoking the various emotions under scrutiny.

During Anger two men enact a furious pas de deux which is deftly athletic and (as is often the case with male pairwork) physically punishing with lots of gruelling lifts. Later a man and woman illustrate the tendency of lovers to lose themselves in each other in a reluctant pas de deux of great strength and deceptive simplicity. She is held upright in his arms, his nose buried in her lap, as her taut body leans perilously away from him, their bodies parting like a cloven tree. The scene changes and a man is under interrogation and forced to strip by an official. He subjects him to a brief genital check up (I've seldom heard an audience squirm so loudly) then takes a close look at his bum as he cowers on all fours. It's a moment fraught with meaninglessness but it changes gear on the whole piece. The men leave, the official desk is dismantled but the victim remains grovelling and alone in a dim spotlight.

The final subject for scrutiny is friendship and its corollary: disregard for the suffering of strangers. "Friends are extremely rare and precious but their main characteristic is their ability to disappoint" - a pronouncement which got a depressingly big laugh from an audience that evidently harboured many a secret sorrow. The duties of friendship are illustrated by the ensemble's reaction to a man carrying a vast fridge on his back. Friends fail to help, acquaintances kiss air and melt back into the wheezing chorus before sloping off one by one, leaving the stage bare and silent but charged by the passions that have played upon it.

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