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Kiss and Cry review at Barbican Centre, London – ‘startling and intricate’

Kiss and Cry at Barbican Centre, London. Photo: Marteen Vanden Abeele
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With startling simplicity and intricate cleverness, Kiss and Cry conjures up entire worlds of bittersweet emotion. It tells the story of a lonely old woman, Gisele, who inveighs against her lost youth and recalls five past loves. A narrator tells us that the first of these love affairs was simply a perfect and dizzying touch, an adolescent brush of hands that occurred on a crowded train and lasted 13 seconds. Each subsequent encounter is conjured up by the hands of two dancers (Michele Anne De Mey and Gregory Grosjean).

Myopics need not fear: the onstage action is filmed and beamed onto a giant suspended screen. While the digits dance on miniature sets strewn with doll’s house furniture, sand, model trains and plastic animals, several technicians scurry about manipulating the props, deploying smoke, mirrors, swathes of fabric and hairdryers. What could so easily become a ham-fisted palaver is an uncategorisable gem, a strange and captivating mixture of theatre, dance and film that’s all made manually before our eyes.

Love’s thrills and desolation are rendered with poignant articulacy. Upright on two fingers, the hands evoke the strut, thrust and coquettish flick of limbs in a disco scene, before one scuttles off into the dark. Fingers entwine ecstatically in sensual unity or skim dreamily across the set’s surface. Later, one bare hand seeks a cradling intimacy from the other, which twitches and convulses in resentful response. Gisele confronts a chasm of emotional abandonment – and an unsavoury-looking foot – before the denouement offers wistful consolation.


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Hands do the dancing in a stunningly inventive work exploring memory and lost love