"Three wildly different takes on intimacy, passion and the banality of love" are the words chosen to illustrate Hofesh Shechter’s Barbarians at Sadler’s Wells. Six dancers appear in white dress, moving in unison, under the instruction of a futuristic voiceover. An organised society of erratic individuals is presented. This is an initial glimpse, perhaps a metaphor, for Shechter’s later verbal description of the "mess inside his head compared with reality on the outside".

'tHE bAD' © Gabriele Zucca
'tHE bAD'
© Gabriele Zucca

The opening sequence is entitled Barbarians in Love. Rock concert style lighting temporarily blinds us, as spotlights pattern changing shapes on the stage. Dancers’ movements are constrained in unison and occasionally freed chaotically by the individual. Contemporary slicing and thudding sounds meet Baroque string music as the fast juddering of individual bodies becomes a slow motion phrase of formal postures in harmony. At the end of the first half, six naked dancers appear in amber spotlights moving in extremely slow unison. A beautiful and vulnerable innocence is about to be lost.

The second part, entitled tHE baD, explores that very loss through trance-like dup-step grooves. The illusion of hot sweaty naked bodies is created as dancers slither around each other, succumbing to new partners, in an orgy of interlinking bodies. Brash light reveals a golden lycra-clad club land of drugs, hip thrusting funky movements, and pumping rap. One duet involves a rubber doll interaction when a female dancer’s body parts become inhumanly flexible under male control. Moments of baroque music, with formal postures and childhood skipping remind us of a loss of the harmonious cultured body of part one.

The final duet is traumatic. Repetitive movements challenge the audience's patience, but not without intention. Shechter suspends time through movement repetition in order to pinpoint important moments and create lasting impressions. In the final duet, a couple’s initially playful step digs become so tedious to the viewer that a lifetime of relationship stagnation is represented. When the couple’s relationship becomes abusive, we are already drawn in and, reluctantly, a part of it. It is brilliantly choreographed and executed.

'Two completely different angles of the same fucking thing' © Gabriele Zucca
'Two completely different angles of the same fucking thing'
© Gabriele Zucca
The Barbarians trilogy is a beautiful and disturbing exploration of intimacy through dance movement. But it reaches further, as the dimension between choreographer and audience becomes intimate. We get to know Hofesh Shechter through his dance, his voice, his family history and ultimately his confession. It is an extremely personal and powerful production.