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BWW Review: MASURCA FOGO, Sadler's Wells

For anyone who'd been wondering, seven and a half years on from the demise of Pina Bausch, what was the point of her company's continued trawl through her back catalogue, this visit is reason enough. It's not just that Masurca Fogo, which takes its inspiration from Portugal and Cape Verde, brings a welcome blast of sunshine into a dank London February. It's that in these dark days of global divisiveness the whole Bauschian project seems even more vital a celebration of shared humanity.

Granted, Masurca Fogo (literally "Fiery Mazurka") is one of Bausch's more playful works. There's none of the teutonic bleakness of, say, Nelken, with its prison guards, or the sleep-walking obscurity of Café Muller. This is a world filled with laughter and love. Which isn't to say that the foibles of modern men and women escape Bausch's gimlet eye. On a rocky beach - impressively evoked on Peter Pabst's white-walled set by a deep shelf of black granite - she conjures a two-and-a-half-hour parade of sensually needy characters.

All the familiar Bauschian tropes are here: vanity, lust, competitiveness, the absurdities of social ritual. Yet instead of chiding us for our folly, here she seems to be smiling at life's rich complexity. Dumb animals flag up its opposite: at various points the stage is visited by a basking walrus (fake but creepily real) and a live chicken which pecks happily at a chunk of watermelon. For them, life is not complex at all.

Many of the vignettes are sketch-show brief: the loving couple who apply so much lip balm they cannot kiss, a woman who washes the dishes while taking a bubble bath, a café customer who, on failing to summon the waiter for sugar, reaches into her shopping bag and empties an entire packet over her coffee. Longer sequences are more affecting. A group in swimwear rig up a polythene water slide and whoosh along it on their stomachs with shrieks of abandon. Revellers construct a disco shack in 50 seconds and cram inside to rumba.

In contrast to Bausch's earlier work, there is a good deal of actual choreography, though not all of the two dozen or so dance solos are sufficiently differentiated to avoid a sense of "here we go again". Those performed by company veterans - some now in their sixties - are in the main the most memorable, Nazareth Panadero kicking off the requisite killer heels for a solo dense with seductive flicks and coded winks. Among the men, Rainer Behr kicks up a storm, turning his compact and muscular form into typhoon tumbleweed.

Some will always find the length of Bausch's shows overindulgent. In Masurca Fogo at least three possible endings go by before the final image of slumbering couples engulfed by projections of luscious unfurling flowers. But it pays to sit back, enjoy the soundtrack (Dizzie Gillespie, fado, k.d. lang) and focus on the detail. Once you've clocked the precisely calibrated twitches of the women's buttocks in the trademark shuffling line dance, you want it never to end.

Masurca Fogo at Sadler's Wells until 12 February


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