Country Life's dance critic reviews two new contemporary dance productions: d’avant and Betrayal.

Exploring their interest in vocal music of the Middle Ages, Juan Kruz Díaz de Garaio Esnaola and Luc Dunberry, from the German group Sasha Waltz and Guests, teamed up with Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, frequent collaborators within Les Ballets C de la B, to create a strange, wonderful production entitled d’avant. On a three-tiered set resembling a building site in Queen Elizabeth Hall, all four danced while singing, or sang while dancing, passing through rituals of religious and secular life with captivating nonchalance.

In 90 uninterrupted minutes they conjured flagellant pilgrims, a rock band, a crucifixion and football players.  A music-hall duo shared two suits, changing places within them until we couldn’t tell whose limb was whose. A tango disintegrated into a brutal punch-up, a noble scholar became a young woman, an old hag and a corpse as her companions stripped each guise away.

Without a narrative to limit its expression, human history unfolded in jagged bursts, leaping from affection to savagery, and the startling combination of medieval music and modern circumstances rendered the timeless timely.

Greg Skidmore and Eleesha Drennan perform in Betryal. Photo credit: Mark Allan.

Greg Skidmore and Eleesha Drennan perform in Betryal. Photo credit: Mark Allan.

Betrayal: A polyphonic crime drama gave physical dimension to music another way. Inside a vast railway vault, six members of the a cappella vocal ensemble I Fagiolini sang Gesualdo’s emotional Renaissance madrigals as they partnered six dancers in dramatizing his murder of his wife and her lover.

Each couple carved an unpredictable path through the darkness to enact different variations of the lethal violence and subsequent sorrow, while the audience stood amidst the performers like frustrated spies, hearing perfectly but forced to watch only the nearest couple. Handed tiny torches before the show began, we had some time to examine the crime scene, marked out by pinboards of interlocking information and chalk outlines of bodies on the floor. But much of the action took place out of sight, blocked for each viewer by others or almost beneath their feet.

Commissioned by the Barbican and directed by John La Bouchardière, this production may improve in other surroundings. Though it’s based on an intriguing concept and celebrates the music’s brilliance admirably, it shortchanges the dancers and their public.


Betrayal travels to Cambridge 20-22 May and to Salisbury 3-5 June. See ifagiolini.com/betrayal

Alain Platel, the founder of Les Ballets C de la B, integrates dance into a fusion of baroque music and Congolese rock and jazz in Coup Fatal, Sadler’s Wells, 4-6 June. sadlerswell.com

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s celebration of tango, Milonga, returns to Sadler’s Wells, 9-13 June.