Dunas

Choreographed, directed and performed by María Pagés and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui
Original Music by Szymon Brzoska and Rubén Lebaniegos
Sadler's Wells
(2011)

Dunas production photo

For Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the contemporary choreographer renowned for trying out (m)any dance forms, from Kathak with Akram Khan to working with Shaolin monks, dance is dance whatever the discipline. For María Pagés flamenco is a lifelong passion, and a way of life.

Both have their own companies, but in Dunas they explore each other's disciplines in dynamic solos and duets. He is apprentice, and sorcerer, to María Pagés flamenco star with 'the endless arms'. She draws him out. He incorporates her into his sand paintings.

Their flamenco duets are remarkable, she commanding, he soft and gentle beside her, she in body-hugging gowns, he in baggy street clothes. But he has assimilated her technique into every sensitive cell of his body. Both are fluidity personified: he mercurial, she like melting honey.

Corporeal and spiritual, Yin and Yang, he air and water, she fire and earth, he the tumbling clown Quasimodo to her regal statuesque Esmeralda. He, of Flemish-Moroccan parentage, makes the link between Andalucia and Morocco. Full of mirages, mirrors, and imagery, Dunas is a plea from the heart for unity, for assimilation, a shedding of differences.

A loose patchwork narrative unfolds in freewheeling dance theatre concert form. The musicians and singers on the stage are exceptional: the conversation between dancers' feet, singers' voices, and musicians is febrile but of equal stature.

Piano, guitar, violin, percussion and two singers, one in Spanish, one in Arabic, accompany the metaphor of shifting dune sands in Cherkaoui's witty sand painting. East and West merge in song and dance: medieval Catholic liturgical song and a muezzin call.

If only one understood the words. No matter, Cherkaoui and Pagés speak volumes with their dance: her chattering castanet riffs and rolls, his cartwheeling, backflipping street dance.

Under hot headlight lamps and billowing translucent silky ochre sheets that serve as cradle, canopy, veil, membrane, cocooning them, turning them into twin butterflies emerging out of chrysalis form, and into church angels, they speak of the enveloping heat of the desert and the passion of life.

Felipe Ramos's magic lantern lighting creates depth and extra partners - shadowboxing and the illusion of dancing with oneself - images appear, multiply and recede.

The sand painting, I guess, is another newly acquired skill by Cherkaoui (he sings too). Kseniya Simonova, 2009 winner of the Ukrainian version of America's Got Talent, stunned the world with her sand paintings, taking on serious and comic subjects in fluid animation.

Quick to shape and quick to erase - with the god-like sweep of a hand. The Twin Towers figure in his cartoon tapestry of life. Big fish eat little fish until he draws a bowl around the little fish. He dusts his hands down in dancing rhythm.

The impish Svengali, Cherkaoui stands to one side at a large lightbox, its artwork projected on to the backcloth. Pagés is magicked into Ovidian metamorphosis. Branches grow from her eloquent arms, as she stands rooted to the ground, in the soil of Andalucia. Symbols and signs in quick succession: the tree of life, the Garden of Eden, the forbidden fruit, the evolution of man.

Dunes in constant flux and transformation, prejudices brushed aside, Pagés and Cherkaoui's restless questing talents have created an organic hybrid form that works for them and the audience, who applauded spontaneously throughout, and gave them a prolonged standing ovation at the end. Each have their followers, on this occasion united in appreciation.

A tremendous evening, seventy-five minutes of intelligent, combustive fusion: naïve sincere charm and generosity from him, and elemental fire from her, one-time dancer with the great Antonio Gades.

El amor brujo - Love, the Magician might aptly describe Dunas, a marriage of two complimentary opposites that works. A blending of energies: he brings a light childlike quirky wit, she an earnest gravity. Both dance divinely.

Till 7th May 2011

Reviewer: Vera Liber