Play, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London: Beyoncé's dancer is a deft and flexible performer

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa's show is playful, affectionate and curious.

Zo Anderson
Wednesday 05 September 2018 10:47
Comments
Dancers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa in ‘Play’
Dancers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa in ‘Play’

In Play, dancers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shantala Shivalingappa try out roles, instruments and games from chess to flirtation. With fine musicians joining in, the show is playful in the best sense, both affectionate and curious.

As a choreographer, the Flemish-Moroccan Cherkaoui has always been drawn to collaboration, working with artists including monks from the Shaolin Temple in China and flamenco star María Pages. He’s also made dances for Beyoncé, including the recent APES**T video. This project with Indian classical star Shivalingappa started in 2008, at the invitation of Tanztheater legend Pina Bausch. As in Bausch’s works, gender roles and social conventions are under scrutiny, but it’s a gentler kind of investigation.

It starts with all six performers on a platform, alongside a range of instruments from around the world. Everybody sings, everybody plays, from medieval polyphony to Indian and Japanese styles. The musicians, Patrizia Bovi, Olga Wojciechowska, Gabriele Miracle and Tsuabasa Hori, will sometimes step into the danced action, too. In Filip Peeters’ set, the platform is in sections, a series of plinths that dancers and stagehands slide about like chess pieces, framing and reframing the action.

The opening dances are very clearly on Shivalingappa’s territory. Cherkaoui is a deft and flexible performer, but his costar brings virtuoso elegance to these steps. She holds herself in delicate tilting lines, the angle of head, arms and torso giving her moves both steely strength and velvet softness.

As they try out masks and puppetry, Cherkaoui comes into his own. In one scene, his puppet teacher lays down ever more complex steps for Shivalingappa to perform. He gives the puppet a powerful personality, high-handed and ambitious.

There’s an entrancing scene where two of the musicians interrupt, setting up a four-person rhythm game – hands tapping on a table, filmed from above and projected on a screen. Watching the video, you can follow the brilliant intricacies of the patterns; watching the stage, you see the teasing glances, the competition, the shared pleasure in their skill.

Play is deliberately episodic, switching from an onstage chess game to a dance with masks or an overlong lecture on mind training. It has a sense of exploration, of the delight of discoveries made together. Whether dancing a sensuous tango or giving a charmingly goofy blindfolded rendition of “A Whole New World” from Disney’s Aladdin, Shivalingappa and Cherkaoui play with serious intent.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in