Standing ovations come as standard at Sadler’s Wells these days and there was yet another on Thursday for Russell Maliphant’s Still Current. The five-part programme, which has been touring Germany and the Middle East for the past two months and hits Voronezh and Yekaterinburg next week, offered three novelties and two old favourites.
Two, which will be reprised by Sylvie Guillem at the London Coliseum in July, is vintage Maliphant. The 1997 work keeps the soloist trapped within a force field of light, hands or feet flaming bright as they dart out into the surrounding beams.
Michael Hulls’s award-winning lighting is not just an aspect of the décor: it sets the mood, directs the eye and defines the space. The Wells has a wide, deep stage but throughout the evening we see Hulls shrinking it to the size of a boxing ring – or a tomb – so that the vast space around the dancers becomes an inky passe-partout that frames the action and focuses our attention on the experiment in progress.
In Afterlight, Hulls’s dappled downlight becomes a participant in the dance as Thomasin Gulgec dervishes introspectively to Satie’s Gnossiennes. This extraordinary solo was inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky’s spirographic doodles and created for Daniel Proietto in 2009. Gulgec cannot quite match Proietto’s silky insouciance but still manages to capture the doomy, evanescent quality of his movement – part moth, part flame.
The 90-minute evening closed with Maliphant himself partnering Carys Staton in Still Current. This meandering, slightly clichéd duet is performed in the familiar bedsit of light, and features a great many lifts and a lot of push-me-pull-you pairwork (legacy of Maliphant’s early adventures in the art of Contact Improvisation). Hulls’s on-off illumination (shades of Martin Creed?) and a percussive soundscape by Mukal gave the piece a spuriously edgy vibe but the movement itself had the look of a rather glum, slo-mo jitterbug. You’d see more in daylight but there wouldn’t be a whole lot to see.
Still, which began the evening, would have made a stronger finale. Dickson Mbi’s hip-hop background gives him the physical control that Maliphant’s work demands and he coped brilliantly with the long, lead-booted back bends of the opening solo. There are no lifts, no holds in his duet with Carys Staton – indeed they barely touch – but the way they mirror and echo each other’s movement creates a mood of almost symbiotic intimacy.