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Dystopian Dream review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘flashes of brilliance’

Dystopian Dream at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Johan Persson
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Dystopian Dream is an ambitious theatrical setting of Nitin Sawhney’s 2015 album, choreographed and performed by dance duo Honji Wang and Sebastien Ramirez, who fuse striking hip hop stylings with contemporary and aerial work.

Diaghilev-style, the production has plenty of other illustrious collaborators. Hussein Chalayan provides costumes (including a conically-distended, Alien-esque face mask for Ramirez, complete with snappy tailoring), while there’s a cool grey slope-and-staircase set from Shizuka Hariu and projected graphics – disintegrating cubic patterns, hairy scribbles, murky tides – by Nick Hillel. Natasha Chivers’ lighting swathes the stage in chill blues and bubbles of red heat while Eva Stone provides doleful vocals throughout.

Disappointingly, all these elements don’t really cohere into transportive sonic scenes of dance-theatre. The music – 15 tracks that blend electronic beats with classical Indian influences and a burst of hoe-down harmonica – sets a meandering pace against which the performers’ emotional narrative remains frustratingly unclear rather than artfully allusive.

There’s a ruckus over a gold box and a lot of scampering up and down the stairs. Stone, a seemingly distressed chanteuse in a nighty, begins the show hunched over a bucket before being trussed up in a harness and dispatched towards the ceiling.

In between the futzing with ropes and furniture, the all-too-infrequent sections of pure dance gleam. Honji Wang etches the air with juddering insectoid strangeness and whorls of mysterious authority. Ramirez imbues b-boy tricks – helicoptering limbs and boneless fluency – with the subtlety of a sigh rather than swagger. More passages of their extraordinary movement would counter the longueurs.

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Multi-media staging of Nitin Sawhney’s album has a frustrating pace but flashes of brilliance