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The Thread review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘impressive reworking of traditional dance’

Russell Maliphant's The Thread at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Three years in the making, this project from choreographer Russell Maliphant and composer Vangelis is all Greek to me. Straying well beyond his comfort zone, Maliphant stitches together the linked arm congas of Hellenic folk dancing with his own distinctive style based on t’ai chi and capoeira.

The 18 dancers (12 contemporary, six traditional) weave in and out of ensemble patterns that suggest a continuum – the thread that not only links the present with the past but also each man with his neighbour.

Ariadne’s Thread is the source metaphor, as serpentine lines of dancers wind their way through Michael Hulls’ pools and ribbons of golden light. Vangelis’ soundtrack is a combination of traditional instrumentation including the squeaking drone of the gaida and his percussive electronica (familiar from his soundtracks to Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner) that rises and falls according to the urgency of the sequence.

The lack of any discernible narrative results in an occasional drop in temperature, but the longueurs do not last.

While the small steps and shuffling footwork conveying the dancers across the stage is far from Maliphant’s style, the deep thrusts and slow rotations are very much within his choreographic design. Like the lighting, the moods switch from warm to cool and back again.

The opening ceremonial sequence with circling groups engaged in a marriage or fertility dance is hypnotic and celebratory. Later, the arrival of a group of men hopping up and down with cowbells slung from their belts to close in on a couple is threatening beyond belief. But, the final sequence in which individuals, duos and small groups cross the stage in a miscellany of modes, while Vangelis’ score builds the momentum, is undeniably thrilling. By the end, the blood is running considerably faster.

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Choreographer Russell Maliphant and composer Vangelis’ impressive makeover of traditional Greek folk dancing