Sometimes a meeting of diverse dance styles can illuminate both – at other times, it’s not clear what benefit either has gained from the encounter. Russell Maliphant’s merging of his signature muscular contemporary with traditional Greek forms (to a score by the electronica composer Vangelis) shows flashes of the first outcome, but more often there’s a disjointed feeling to The Thread that leaves you a tad disappointed.
It starts beautifully. Bathed in Michael Hulls’ extraordinary lighting, the assembled company of 18 Greek dancers (six traditional, 12 contemporary) form folk dance circles, leaning in and out and creating intricate links with a slow, ceremonial deliberation. They form a joined line to pass one by one through a spotlight and their dynamic profiles resemble figures on a classical Greek vase.
The title of the piece alludes, among other things, to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, and hints of Greek myth appear throughout, often in Vangelis’s percussion-heavy music; the sound of crashing waves under violins, for instance, makes you think of Poseidon and The Odyssey; the harsh industrial clang of metal brings to mind Hephaestus.
The dancers at times seem to be summoning the gods – and in the most striking sequence, a large square of black shadow is prepared as a sacred space for a beautifully tender duet, the dancers’ legs at first submerged in the square’s gloom, before the pair are bathed in gold.
Maliphant, however, sometimes seems more restricted by his brief than liberated; his contemporary elements don’t carry the force you usually associate with his work, and the more purely traditional elements inevitably lose some of their raw folk power by being presented on a stage. There are wonderful displays of virtuosity, when the men repeatedly leap to slap their ankles and soles of their feet, and the women spin serenely with arms raised. And en masse they create moments when the sense of community that dance can engender feels palpable.
But there is no clear thread that links this series of vignettes, which frustrates our involvement with the work. It passes by like a series of ancient frescoes, sometimes pretty to look at – but never as richly inclusive an experience as you might have hoped for.