Babel (words) @ Sadler’s Wells, London

performed by
Navala Chaudhari, Francis Duchame, Darryl E. Woods, Jon Filip Fahlstrom, Damien Fournier, Ben Fury, Paea Leach, Christine Leboutte, Ulrika Kinn Svensson, Kazutomi Tsuki Kozuki, Moya Michael, James OHara, Helder Seabra

directed by
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet
Babel (words), a collaboration between renowned choreographers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Damien Jalet, and sculptor Anthony Gormley, is the first of four major new works by artists from the Arabic-speaking world to be commissioned by the Dash Arabic Series.

Its starting point is the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, where God punishes the people who built it by scattering them across the world into different lands, cultures and languages.

This event is symbolically reflected in the cast who between them cover a spectrum of nationalities and languages, and the piece itself explores the issues of communication and connection.
It begins with a woman explaining to the audience that before people spoke they communicated with gesture. Of course misunderstandings occurred, but these were accepted in a way that confusions created by the spoken word are not. This is followed by a routine in which all of the performers stamp out a routine with their hands as if communicating through gesture. This rapidly ascends into a full blown play fight, with emotions rising, a drum beating progressively harder, and conflicts becoming more apparent by the second.

All of the action takes place in and around Anthony Gormleys five cylindrical steel frames. These are frequently laid on their side, possibly symbolising the collapse of Babel or the Twin Towers, and serve a variety of functions. A man tries to pass them off as luxury dwellings that encapsulate everything from traditional Chinese forms to the Western architecture of Le Corbusier and Horta. They are piled up inside each other to resemble the Empire State Building, or alternatively placed in a cruciform shape. Most importantly, however, they highlight the arbitrary nature of divisions, with one man struggling to escape through the walls that he believes are there, and another walking straight through them.

Although the question of connection is explored in many different ways, just occasionally it feels as if the shows basic premise needs to be widened in order for it to sustain interest for nearly two hours without interval. In addition, although the five piece band, which includes singer Patrizia Bovi and two members from the Indian group Rangeela, is exemplary, its concentration on Arabic and Eastern music does not mirror the worldwide diversity that is expressed on stage.

Nevertheless, the movement throughout is exceptional, remaining entirely in keeping with the points being made, and standing strong in terms of technical accomplishment. In one scene, two men cleverly inflate a lady, treating her like an inanimate object because she is a foreigner to them, whilst another man is similarly tossed and thrown about with great skill.

The piece also possesses a keen philosophical edge. The audience is told how neurons can cause us to feel the same sensation as the person we are watching, with only our nervous systems telling us that the experience isnt actually happening to us. In other words, skin is the only thing that divides us from each other, and at the end this point is made in a powerful dance that sees a man and a woman bond as body touches body, and skin meets skin.

Further information about the Dash Arabic Series can be found at

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