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When members of the cast are already making nuisances of themselves in the auditorium before curtain-up, you know you are in for a difficult time. And sure enough, at Thursday night’s opening of the French choreographer Philippe Decouflé’s Sombrero at Sadler’s Wells, some of the performers were at it, being vivacious and oh-so- amusing as we got to our seats. French-speakers all, their English is of the Inspector Clouseau variety, and much of it was inaudible (as throughout an evening that boasted abundant chat).
However, since the ensuing activities (the programme warns that it will end at 9pm and adds those direst of words “There is no interval”) are a grab-bag of tricks with light, projections, film, optical illusions and about enough “dance” to fill a very small teaspoon, there are other things to worry about first, notably the question: “Shall I make a dash for it now?” Dutiful as ever, wondering if, like an early Christian martyr, I could count on the lion being hungry and getting it over expeditiously, I stayed.
What interminably ensued we have seen before with Decouflé but never so sprawlingly, as a series of tricks with light and projections, not unreminiscent of Alwin Nikolais, served as wrapping and trappings to an entirely vapid spectacle. Men and women postured. Light played on and round them. Some vague and un-Pascalian pensées were voiced about the nature of shadows. (“Does an egg have a shadow?” – prompting the thought that un oeuf is as good as a feast). There is an accompaniment largely provided by a pianist who mixes Bartok and Debussy with the maunderings of Brian Eno.
Many of the effects are amusing in the eye-confusing way common to such events, and the whole twitchy, furiously self-conscious and (seemingly) self-satisfied affair rings hollow. I laughed at a jokey beach incident in which a bather, back to us, undressed and became a screen for the exactly located frontal projections of male genitalia waving in the breeze: like Parsifal it was amusing without descending into vulgarity. But apart from that . . .
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