French artist Philippe Decouflé presented his most recent show, Panorama, at Sadler’s Wells this weekend. Made of fragments of old favourites and rare works from his repertory, the piece mesmerized the audience. For those new to Decouflé’s inventive genius, Panorama allowed the discovery of his funny, tender and miscellaneous magical world. For those familiar with Decouflé’s works, the show provided the pleasure of revisiting his whole career through a new gaze, since the selected extracts are variations from the original rather than mere reproductions.

The show starts while the audience is still taking their seats and the lights are still on. The seven performers enter the auditorium marching to the rhythms of the lively music coming from the portable radio that one of them is carrying. They all are dressed as majorettes. Once they reach the stage they whirl their batons and informally perform an easy dance routine. They seem to dance spontaneously, loosely following the same patterns, and their faces overtly express the fun they are having. After this brief introduction they prepare for the performance in the dressing rooms installed in the wings. The audience witness their movements. The sincere infectious joy of the opening number and the transparency of the set are an open invitation to participate in a magical journey. Panorama is a show designed to be enjoyed. The audience is welcome to join in and share the experience.

The production is a dynamic collage that encompasses a wide range of disciplines and styles. Dance, theatre and circus blend in a production where each and every element plays a significant role. The music sets the mood of each sequence, creating an overall impression of tender unity that is admirable in a score by several composers. The costumes contribute to create strong characterisations while at the same time perfectly providing the freedom of movement each number demands. Bright and colourful outfits alternate with sober black or white body tights when more emphasis on the dancing body is required. The visual imagery and lighting effects highlight the movements and the words of the performers in a subtle but very effective way. Decouflé amalgamates all these elements with inventive, imaginative and enthralling choreography.

The dance sequences combine solos, duets and ensembles. The former are hardly ever presented alone, as either they are enhanced by thrilling visual effects or counterpointed with another focus of attention. The duets are crafted by inventive supports and partnering, and the rare ensembles convey a subtle sense of fraternity. None of the steps are devoid of expression. Although there is no storyline to follow, each number catches the audience’s attention.

There is also a strong comic element permeating the whole production. Humour is introduced through different devices. Sometimes, it bursts from unexpected and incongruous movements inserted in serious dance sequences. On several occasions, it is caused by cross-dressings and reversals of gender roles. Most explicitly, it dominates several amusing slapstick comedy routines. The generous use of humour reinforces the entertainment purpose of the production.

Adding to the comedy, Decouflé creates a magic atmosphere that places his show in an enchanting wonderland. Mysterious hand shadows produce awe and wonder; fantastic creatures with tentacles land in the stage; human beings seem to fly during spectacular aerials supported by harnesses. This supernatural touch helps the audience to recover for a while the innocent fascination of childhood.

Overall, despite the deliberate emphasis on the physical, visual and comic ingredients of the show, there is a subtle delicacy and tenderness pervading Panorama. Decouflé is a theatrical poet reluctant to show his lyricism overtly, opting instead to hide it under a mystic and funny façade.

Much of the success of the evening at Sadler’s Wells was due to the magnificent performers in Decouflé’s company. Julien Ferranti possesses a strong stage presence and cleverly exploited it for comic purposes. Both Rémy-Charles Marchant and Ioannis Michos are brilliant dancers able to extract from their pliable bodies a wide range of expressive movement. Matthieu Penchinat has an excellent command of his voice; thanks to it he was the perfect host and storyteller of the evening. And the three girls, Marie Rual, Lisa Robert and Violette Wanty possess a combination of physical abilities and expressive skills that enabled them to add comic, moving and evocative nuances to their demanding performance.