First Night: High-energy rope tricks in love's name

`Furioso' Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London

John Percival
Tuesday 04 May 1999 23:02 BST

THERE IS no nonsense about political correctness with Meryl Tankard. This Australian choreographer starts her show, Furioso, with the women of the cast doing a bit of overtime, waiting about on the stage and gesticulating vaguely while the audience is still coming in.

This raises a question of good manners. Are we supposed to wave back? I tried it in a discreet, embarrassed, English way, but they took no notice so I stopped.

Once the Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre's show actually begins, the men of the company start stomping in and pulling each other about to disrupt the positions of the unprotesting women.

But eventually one of them does protest: she runs centre stage, lies down and screams, very loud and long. That is a signal for everyone to do a lot of running and jumping and criss-crossing the space. All a bit shapeless and to no very clear purpose, but they do use up a lot of energy, so when that section finishes there is a round of applause and an outbreak of the shrill whistling that used to indicate disapproval, but has now taken on the opposite meaning among some spectators.

Somewhere about this point there is a quieter patch (and if I seem a big vague that's because everything looks rather arbitrary). But soon the dancers get on to their big gimmick: rotating on the ends of ropes.

One of the men goes first, getting up to an impressive speed as he twists and turns in typical ballet virtuoso style, but soon it is up to the women again to be the objects of male domination in curious duets: swung around, hung on to, or just abandoned - left to swing while the chaps do their own showing off down below.

All this time, music by three different composers is playing - Arvo Part, Elliot Sharp and Henryk Gorecki - but except when one of them provides a long passage of wild banging, and again when the women swagger a bit to an especially dancey sequence, you could be forgiven for not noticing it very much.

At the end, after 60 minutes of these goings on, we suddenly see the women, who have disappeared for a while, emerge feet up at the back of the stage and start walking up the wall. Rather clever, actually, since the ropes that support them are hardly visible. But what's it all about? You might well ask.

A programme note informs us that it all arises from the question: "What do you do if you're losing someone you really love?" You could have fooled me, because any sign of love, or any other real involvement among the performers is conspicuous only by its absence.

Still, if wild energy and some fearlessly ingenious tricks are what grab you, they are here in abundance.

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