Puz/zle, Sadler’s Wells, London – review

There were various warning signs. The bizarrely spliced title to this new piece from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The announcement that it was first seen last year in a disused quarry near Avignon. The news that it “questions the seeming importance of order and linearity” (I love that “seeming”); and the coup de grâce in the programme: “This performance will last approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes without an interval.” Examining the chicken’s entrails beforehand, I was not reassured.

The components of the event may offer slight hints as to what bizarrely happened. There is a splendid group of singers – the Corsican ensemble A Filetta – who move through the staging and harmonise to delightful, if lengthy effect, with the Lebanese soprano Fadia Tomb El-Hage as fine soloist. There are the 10 performers of Larbi’s Eastman troupe who dance – though what they do is better identified as Alice’s reeling, writhing and fainting in coils. There is the dark and cavernous stage into which are introduced white polystyrene blocks, small or massive, which the ant-like cast interminably manipulate to create skyscrapers, staircases, shelters – even a grave – into and over which they force their bodies, not unlike those bold tourists who used to clamber up the pyramid at Giza.

Costuming varies as the evening takes its devious way, but for some of the time the performers are dressed in black, resembling koken, those “invisible” attendants in Kabuki drama, though here seemingly ready for golf in a graveyard, with funereal plus-fours. And what happens? Angst happens. Games and neurotic patternings with plastic rocks happen, and fights and collapses and Japanese flute-playing and interminable readjustments of the blocks to make architectural structures (from skyscraper to barricade, with graffiti) happen, and gymnastics of a desultory kind – not least from a Japanese chap who seems eager to pull off one of his legs – happen.

An ant-like and scuttling community, indeed, which Larbi observed in his Avignon quarry as some sort of inspiration, and all in the name of non-linearity. And all this for a near two hours of portentous and elliptic to-ing and fro-ing. Not my immediate choice for an illuminating evening with the dance.


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