Three Atmospheric Studies, Sadler’s Wells, London

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

Three Atmospheric Studies, in Rosebery Avenue this week, is William Forsythe’s response to the still-bleeding conflict in Iraq.

It comes with a programme note that explains, in admiring tones, that Forsythe’s structure is complex, reverberant with references to Lukas Cranach’s Crucifixion in Munich and to a photograph of a bombed building exploding, and is cast in three parts or “compositions”. (“The event that was presented as real in Composition 1 becomes inherently intangible; it withdraws”).

This intellectual gabble has ever been a part of the Forsythe process, where, like Humpty Dumpty, “words mean what I say they mean” and we must marvel at the convolutions of the choreographer’s imagination, if not of the choreography.

And what we saw on Wednesday night was fuzzy old Tanztheater banging away at the most popular of today’s Good Causes, the wickedness of the Iraq war. The unlikely personnel of the Forsythe Company spend the first part of the evening oh-so-obviously racing, cowering, freezing in terrified poses. Part two layers the questioning of a mother (the powerful Jone San Martin) about her son, by an unidentified interrogator, with what I take to be art-historical mutterings from a second man.

Part three reproduces, though massive amplification, effects of bombardment on a crowd of men and women, and introduces a caricatured commentator (Dana Casperson as a US soldier) uttering self-justificatory platitudes. The performance ends.

And what have we seen? Deadly Tanztheater, got up as political art, making cheap points out of the agonising events, the vision of hell, that we have known in western Europe through television coverage.

No Forsythian rigour has transformed these matters into anything other than blatant emotionalism. The rigour that transmutes fact into the more potent fact of theatre is wholly absent.

This staging offers victim art, right-minded, self-obsessed, platitudinous. My childhood involved five years of war, of air-raids, bombing, doodlebugs, machine-gun bursts. It was less scary than this miserable display of political correctness. ★☆☆☆☆ for Jone San Martin.

Tel +44 870 737 7737

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.