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Maliphantworks2 review at the Print Room, London – ‘gorgeously evocative’

Russell Maliphant and Dickson Mbi in Maliphantworks2 at the Print Room, London. Photo: Tom Bowles Russell Maliphant and Dickson Mbi in Maliphantworks2 at the Print Room, London. Photo: Tom Bowles
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For the first time in 15 years, choreographer Russell Maliphant is back onstage duetting with his collaborator and partner Dana Fouras. The result is triumphant.

Despite the no-frills title, Duet is a work of delicacy and restrained romanticism that emerges from shadowy beginnings.

As with all Maliphant creations, Michael Hulls’ lighting is integral: he silhouettes the pair against a murky backcloth and bathes them in a burnished Mediterranean glow. Choreographic expectations are invoked and subverted: to a twangy mandolin melody overlaid with an electronic thrum, Fouras and Maliphant start with movements typical of the latter’s physical language: leans, supported back bends and illuminated arms that arc, reach and drop through echoed phrases.

But a courtly and companionate quality arises, enhanced by their lightly balletic carriage. They sway together with turned-out feet that sweep and extend to the swell of a Donizetti aria laced through with gramophone crackle. A sequence of lifts effortlessly catches the music at its climax, but the pair conclude with simple, unshowy strolling. It is gorgeously evocative, gentle yet schmaltz-free.

The other three duets in the programme, though less tender, all impress. In the 1991 work Critical Mass, Maliphant and Dickson Mbi imbue tightly-spooled patterns of repetition and variation with a simultaneous sense of routine and spontaneity.

Like Mbi, Grace Jabbari dances with authority and elegance. In Still, the pair whirl and prowl along concentric paths, while in Two Times Two Fouras and Jabbari give us a coruscating crescendo of scything limbs and liquid physicality.

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Irresistible Russell Maliphant mixed bill of four dramatically-lit duets, including a world premiere