Sadler's Wells, London; November 2, 2012
Philippe Decouflé’s “Panorama” is 100 minutes of sheer delight. A series of amuses bouche from the early 1980’s onwards. Old friends appear in new guises to amuse, amaze and tantalise.
The opening spills out into the foyer, when a parade of whacky majorettes lure the audience to their seats wearing bright orange, faux fur bearskins that make them look like clones of Lucille Ball on performing-enhancing drugs. There is then an unfortunate hiatus when the dancers change costumes and, although the house lights ermine up, the gap is over long.
Still, all is forgiven very quickly as we catapult into the whacky world of Decouflé and his performers.
The microbes are back, flapping and flopping their way across the stage. The circus combines with the ballet to investigate the human condition, flying through the air with the greatest of ease but underlining it with raucous commentary. There is also a shortened version of the metabolism piece where we follow ingestion through digestion to expulsion.
Even an early, comparatively conventional work such as “Jump” has a twist in the tail: an apparently straightforward contemporary dance work with dancers in brightly coloured, baggy suits is given an extra edge when the dancers keep their hands in their pockets. This simple device invests the movement with fascinating overtones that prevent it from looking dated.
A simple shadow play sets the audience giggling and the setting up of the circus equipment becomes part of the show with the audience complicit in the joke. A witty beat-box style piece places three dancers on a bench and is a parody of the oft-repeated ladder jokes where dancers take it in turns to hit, punch and flatten each other with plenty of surprises and rhythmic hiccoughs in between.
There is much weird pop music and music concrete; at times it seems that we have strayed into the late lamented Radiophonic Workshop. For once, it is not deafeningly loud and never overwhelms the dance.
Decouflé’s dancers are very varied but all have strong ballet technique used to good effect and all are convincing actors. Usually when dancers are obliged to break into song, the audience cringes but here, it is all part of the whirl, as is the ukulele-playing dancer. Gender discrimination is blurred as men wear skirts and tutus (and a rabbit suit) and girls trousers.
A great evening! Probably not the sort of thing that one can see too often, but just the right length to set the weekend up with a zing.