Extreme mountain antics and high-flying circus

Guest Blog: Nia Morais on Her First Play IMRIE, Welsh Fantasy and The Dark Fantastic

Guest Blog: Nia Morais on Her First Play IMRIE, Welsh Fantasy and The Dark FantasticMost people going to the theatre will take public transport or their own car. In September 2021, Nathan Paulin took a 600-metre walk to Chaillot, Paris’ Théâtre National De La Danse on a slackline 70 metres above the Seine. This daring act was at the request of Rachid Ouramdane, the specialist dance venue’s artistic director, who went on to create Corps extrêmes with Paulin, eight acrobats from Compagnie XY and Swiss free climber Nina Caprez.

Both Paulin and Caprez are fond of the Alps but they experience it in perpendicular directions. While Paulin has been known to walk between mountains or go for a record-breaking 2.2km aerial stroll to the French island of Mont Saint Clair, Caprez prefers the vertical to the horizontal, scaling sheer cliffs and filming her exploits as she does.

Ouramdane’s new work arrives for two nights at Sadler’s Wells, the London equivalent to Chaillot. This may seem like a strange choice from the outside given that this show comes across as more about circus and aerial daring than pure dance. Watch closely, though, and there is plenty of graceful movement and well-executed co-ordination on exhibition here. Those who saw Humans 2.0 from Circa earlier this year at the Southbank Centre – another production that blended these same art forms – will see an echo here in the liminal motions.

Corps extrêmes has a breezy start with a projected drone video showing Paulin up in the air amid some snowy peaks. We can almost feel the chill as he tells us how, by having to focus on each step, he gains an inner peace and new perspective on his everyday life. The scene slips seamless into the auditorium with Paulin himself walking on a slackline above the stage.

Our eyes are drawn back and up to see the acrobats aloft a climbing wall. The lighting comes from above with the shadows from the handholds giving the wall a pitted look, as if it was a rugged mountainside. This may lead the audience to think that this powerful backdrop will be a central part of the show but Ouramdane barely uses it before the last few scenes. Instead, he focuses his supremely agile troupe on ground work as they build human totems and jump through the air into each other's arms. Teamwork, community and trust are the obvious themes in this section but that runs at cross-purposes to Paulin and Caprez’s pursuits which are very much solo affairs.

There’s some more voiceovers and films as we see Caprez ascending spider-like up and across the wall and an acrobat describes the moment when, mid-flight, she realised that the carriers she expected to catch her fail to do so and its bone-crunching aftermath. This should inspire awe for these risky and superhuman endeavours but the underpowered presentations leaves us disconnected from these experiences.

Given the high-quality artistes and rich material, this show can’t fail to be entertaining but overall feels like a wasted opportunity. The direction of the circus routines is weak and hackneyed; repeating the same feat or showing them in parallel doesn’t have an exponential or even additive effect.

Video and voiceover inject exposition and emotional context but are overused here, taking up at least a third of the show. The music ranges from cacophonous electronica to slow guitar twangs and rarely feels complementary to or in sync with what we are seeing. Despite Ouramdane’s best efforts, the dramatic value of juxtaposing expert circus acrobats with these two outdoor heroes is very much up in the air.

Corps Extremes continues 24 May at Sadler's Wells

Photo Credit: Pascale Cholette


Review: BLACK PANTHER IN CONCERT, Royal Albert Hall

Conducted by Anthony Parnther (isn’t that the perfect name to lead this specific venture?), this European premiere features Massamba Diop on the talking drum, an instrument essential to the score. Diop, who performed the original tracks for director Ryan Coogler, is a force of nature. After a beautiful introduction by Parnther (who surprisingly does a cracking impression of James Earl Jones as Mufasa!), Diop gave a taster for what was to come: a vibrant tattoo that goes hand in hand with masterful storytelling, filling the Hall effortlessly.


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