Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; June 24, 2014

Charlotte Kasner

Whatever else Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is, he is never dull. Whilst “Rian” last week exploded with energy but left one feeling empty, the cerebral choreography of “4D” is dense and rich, and plays as much with as much calm and stillness as it does speed. Both need a great deal of input and commitment from the dancers but Cherkaoui makes demands of the audience too. Whereas the “Rian” audience shrieked and hollered at every opportunity, there were moments when one could hear a pin drop in all four works in “4D”. No less appreciative, this was a thinking audience who undoubtedly took away a myriad of thoughts and emotions.

It was however not an unmitigated success. There was too much emphasis on simulated sex in all of the pieces which just became flat and predictable. There was gratuitous nudity and lots of lingering shots on the bare breasted woman in the film “For Valtiri”. The silliness of the dancer pretending to be an orang-utan quickly palled and the long (and sometimes wobbly) adage that followed would not have suffered if trimmed. But these are minor quibbles. There was much else to savour.

In fact the use of film was excellent. The device of having a live dancer apparently enter a market which then morphed in the audience’s point of view was very clever. The projections that illustrated “Faun” were simple but effective.

Dancers often resembled peculiar arachnids as they made, not so much the beast with two backs, but spiders. They rolled and twisted with limbs poking out and gaining precarious purchase on stage or on a body part. They moved from level to level, lifted horizontally, crawling, creeping and suddenly bursting into elevation. One moment it looked like conflict, the next sex, accompanied by gasps, pants and grunts.

Adam Carree’s lighting plot was superb. Often dark, he made particularly good use of smoke effects (gallons of fog juice used to great effect and almost silent with none of the hissing that usually heralds the miasma). Maybe even stage fog can be bent to this choreographer’s will.

The evening finished with “Faun”, Cherkaoui’s tribute to Nijinsky. Many have assailed the heights of this piece but none have matched Nijinsky. This is no exception although it is better than most. But it never touches the heart of this sublime and deceptively complex work. Debussy was interrupted with harsher tones as this faun got his girl. Yet another simulated sex pas de deux which surely misses the whole point. The onanism in Faun is still a bit shocking, no longer just because it is acknowledged, but because it makes voyeurs of the audience. Nijinsky’s nymphs are weird hieroglyphs not raunchy Amazons. There is no secrecy about this sexual desire: more boy meets girl for a bit of unexpected dogging in the woods and they go home again.

There was a lot to enjoy in this evening. Sometimes the attention wandered but it also got drawn in. Thoughtful, provocative and intelligent and just a little bit flawed.