It’s not often I leave a dance performance with a smile on my face, but it’s impossible not to feel uplifted by the UK debut of Dunas. This is not only an intriguing, thought-provoking collaboration of the best of flamenco and contemporary dance. It is quite simply refreshing, inspiring fun.

© Dimo Dimov / Volksoper Wien
© Dimo Dimov / Volksoper Wien

Described as the dancer with endless arms Maria Pagés is respected and admired for her contribution to the modern development of flamenco. While Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, an Associate Artist at Sadler’s Wells, has developed a reputation for working with dance forms that are unfamiliar to him. His own performance style is characterised by floor work and movements that are as light as air, delicate and fluid. A marked contrast to the disciplined, uncompromising rigour of Pagés’s Flamenco.

As the title suggests the performance is inspired by the shifting nature of sand dunes and the transience of the human condition. But these themes are explored with an innocent sense of child-like wonder and playfulness. Together they play with the idea of sand and sunlight, they play with each dance form, they play with the human form and playfully they creatively introduce new elements of stagecraft, such as sand-drawings projected on set to create an appealing evening of great dance.

The visually powerful set is created from a series of translucent veils which shift and flow like the dunes themselves. In the opening sequence the dancers emerge on stage, each wrapped in a veil, striving to come together. They mirror each other’s movements, using palms to touch and arms to entwine. In the next sequence as Pagés dances, Cherkaoui, positioned on the side of the stage, uses both hands to draw images in sand which are projected onto the rear of the stage. Initially these are used to extend Pagés’s movements. As she reaches out her arm it is transformed into a branch until her gestures and Cherkaoui’s drawing have created a tree of life. This is followed by a series of images telling the tale of human history, from the story of the creation to 9/11. The stark contrast of the two dance styles is intensified when the two are physically and psychologically divided and Pagés aggressive flamenco forces Cherkaoui into submission. Like moving sand the relationship shifts again until finally the dancers are reunited and the dance forms merge as one.

The original music is composed by Szymon Brzoska and Ruben Lebaniegos and enhances the cultural mix on stage with its assorted elements of flamenco, classical, medieval and Arabic music. It is performed live and perfectly complements the choreography, especially the Tuareg style singing.

It’s a joy to see two dancer-choreographers at the top of their game so fearlessly open to such fresh new ideas. Together they bring together two dance cultures to create the best of both worlds in an enchanting evening which lifts the spirits.

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