Opus Cactus (pictured), the latest from Momix at London's Peacock Theatre, is said to have been inspired by the flora and fauna of the Arizona desert, which makes it sound more interesting than it is. Had Pendleton decided to go the David Attenborough route and name each curious bird or lurid reptile represented in the course of 19 tableaux vivants, the audience would at least have learned something. As it is, one is at a loss to know whether the shuffling conga line comprising four conjoined men - each one's head alarmingly wedged between the next one's buttocks - is meant to be a rattlesnake or a sidewinder. Or perhaps that is the intention of the ra-ra girls wrestling rubber serpents, or the prone bodies that scoot across the stage on hidden skateboards. Each may represent a different species, or all of them the same. After 10 minutes you cease to care either way.
Pendleton is keen on silhouettes, and the first few times he has a dancer create a black shape against a sunset it's effective. The girl on pointe with spiky arms is clearly some kind of cactus. The squat splayed form is a toad or crab. But when he milks each image at tedious length you see that the crabs are men bent double clutching their ankles and the girl's balances have a tendency to wobble. Any magic is snuffed out, and what's left is an impression of strenuous effort - rather more effort, I'd guess, than went into the pick'n'mix of taped music that ranges carelessly from Indian raga to didgeridoo. The whole confection is just as arbitrary and forgettable.
A more piquant experience might be expected from a company called Stacked Wonky celebrating the 75th birthday of Cecil Sharp House, the cradle of the English Folk Dance & Song Society in London. While an earnest Cumberland Reel class was in progress downstairs, the grandly muralled main hall was decked out for a party with helium balloons, café tables and warm wine in plastic cups. I was tickled to be offered a raffle ticket on the way to my table before I realised it was part of the show, and over the following 60 minutes it was never clear whether the show was lauding or sending up the homespun pastimes of sandal-wearing folk. Suffice to say that the "audience" is served fairy cakes while Fringe-ish happenings roll out. Sinister waiters march around in animal masks. A musician plays a melancholy tune on a saw while dancers slither on their bellies across the room. Someone turns on a hairdryer to make giant plastic rubbish sacks rise to the ceiling and float down like jellyfish. As anarchy, it's pretty ineffectual. As performance art, it's fey.
Momix: Peacock, WC2 (0870 7370337) to 1 Oct. Stacked Wonky: Cecil Sharp House, NW1 (020 7241 8958) to 29 Sept
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies