The first half of Agua, Pina Bausch’s 2001 celebration of all things Brazilian, is a ravishing tumble of whimsy, each arrival on the stage unexpected, charming and absorbing. The second is less engaging, and until the spectacular finale, is saved only by the dancers’ kaleidoscopic canvas of personalities.
A scene from Agua at the Barbican Theatre, London Photo: Oliver Look
Huge screens dominate the stage for most of the show, at times giving the impression the dancers are performing in an IMAX cinema as Peter Pabst’s films thunder though aerial shots of gushing Brazilian greenery. To this continually moving backdrop, they shimmy, toss their hair, pick their way through a puzzle of tiny hand gestures and offer up clusters of emotionally introverted solos, occasionally breaking out to verbally address the audience or, in one scenario, offer drinks to the front row.
Julie Shanahan is fully deserving of her myriad spotlight moments. With an endearing glint in her eye and a daring sense of irony, she wrestles every ounce of pathos and humor from her monologues.
Ditta Miranda Jasjfi is the physical embodiment of childlike joy, skipping through scenes with an irrepressible spirit, while wild-haired Christina Morganti is a dramatic force to be reckoned with.
The men are given less to work with verbally, but have plenty of intricate solos and playful interchanges - kissing their partners breasts as a welcome or tickling their arms with fluttering eyelashes.
The audience are with the show in the first half, alert and tittering frequently. They feel absent in the second - there is less laughter and more confusion at the activity on stage (a funnel of water being created out of pipes, Shanahan sprawling across the floor with a microphone and wire). The rousing finale, however, ensures a standing ovation, and whatever the flaws of the second half, the performers earn every second of applause.