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Crave review at Barbican Pit, London – ‘illuminating moments’

Eleanor Perry and Julie Cunningham in Crave at Barbican Pit, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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An alumnus of Merce Cunningham and Michael Clark’s companies, Julie Cunningham launched her choreographic career in 2017 with To Be Me, a study of gender fluidity set to Kate Tempest’s reworking of the Tiresias myth.

Now Cunningham has turned to text again, staging Sarah Kane’s 1998 one-act play Crave with (all female) dancers and actors. It’s a bold choice, but it doesn’t always convince.

Crave is a play for four voices that do not converse. Named only as A, B, C and M, this quartet of incomplete characters allude to all manner of pain – abuse, anorexia, suicide – without a linear narrative emerging. What they articulate overall is the lonely struggle of the self in love, the desire to be subsumed by or entirely closed off from the other.

It’s a theme to which Cunningham and her grey-clad dancers respond effectively at times. They’re largely atomised beings, peering over another’s shoulder as if into a void, avoiding embrace. They step and retract a foot, crane-like, or gesture blankly into empty space. To the strangely delicate rhythmic textures of Kane’s voices, Cunningham creates some fitting physical displays of attraction and repulsion, of solitary selfhood.

But this ascetic movement style, though finely crafted, is no match for the searing quality of Kane’s writing, which is given a potent performance by all four actors, especially Anna Martine Freeman as A.

Crave’s textual exploration of selfhood, its pared-down interrogation of the playwright’s form and its sheer emotional force often leaves the dancers’ peregrinations and poses somewhat redundant.

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Pared-down staging of Sarah Kane’s play that contains illuminating moments