Sadler’s Wells, London
November 30, 2018
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is in fine form with this two-year old work, at times reaching the same transcendent heights as Lin Hwai-min and Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. While Icon has none of the excitement and inventiveness that Gormley and Cherkaoui achieved with Sutra, it nevertheless packs subtle punches, hinting at the fundamental roots of humanity.
The first thing that one notices is the rank smell of clay. The second is the intimacy of the superb GöteborgsOperans Danskompani and the fluidity of the choreography.
Colours are muted and pastel against a pale, bare stage. Blobs of clay are dotted around the stage, sometimes ignored by the dancers, sometimes kneaded. Dancers surge forwards, confronting the audience then work intimately as if the fourth wall had been reconstructed.
There is always something new. Bodies wind in and out like a medieval chain dance, circles form and break and new groups congregate before the whole unites in a large circle. Periodically, the cast huff and stamp manically, breath rasping and ribs heaving.
A couple forms; he wields the clay into a vast phallus, she circles her head, hair whirling, now faster as they couple in ever-increasing complexity. A woman in red is isolated, then bombarded by gobbets of clay. The couple calm the group, everyone pairs off. They form a semi-circle facing the audience.
They mould the clay, and mould the clay, and mould the clay. Three and a half tons of it. They make hats that become fighting helmets as the people learn war. As conflict gives way to art, huge monoliths are formed, then combined. The brain imagines a squatting human, head in hands. The cast mimic him upstage. Lights dim.
Throughout, we hear traditional songs from Japan, France, Italy and South Korea. A mezzo-soprano counterbalanced by a canticle voiced by a girlish soprano. Drums boom, percussion knocks.
We are but clay and to clay we shall return. This is a pretty good hour and a bit offering the chance to contemplate the fact.