Philippe Decoufle: Sombrero @ Sadler’s Wells, London

At the beginning of this unique performance two narrators – and their shadows – warn the audience that, at some point, the outside world will cease to exist and that reality itself will cease, but that the audience will remain perfectly safe.

It sounds pretentious, but the strange thing is that for an hour and a half the outside world did disappear, as Philippe Decoufle and his dancers transported us to a completely different world: a funny, beautiful and scary world.

In Sombrero, choreographer Decoufle is revisiting familiar territory. Well known for his incorporation of video into his dance pieces, here he examines the themes of light and shadow, reflection and image.

In Decoufle’s world the shadows do not always stay attached to their human counterparts; instead they inhabit a world of their own. By using light and video we glimpse this world.

Initially the piece appears to be the story of Victor and Victoria, who can not find each other and, like shadows, reach out but cannot meet. The piece ends with the human and the shadow dancing, but never quite grasping each other.

Throughout all this, the audience are guided by two narrators with very thick accents, who add to the sense of unreality but also add a light-heartedness and a sense of fun to the piece, and help us reconnect with the disparate narrative threads.

Meanwhile, the rest of the piece takes place in series of sections which do not appear to connect and yet, in each, the idea of light, space and perspective is expressed. This is a strange journey – a quest through the land of shadows, including a visit to the desert and to the beach, where sombreros are de rigueur.

The piece uses light and video throughout, often forcing you to question what you’re actually seeing. At one point a woman dances in a shallow box and it takes a while to work out that you are actually seeing everything backwards. This often throws you off balance giving you a sense of unreality.

There is a danger that all the technology will interfere with the dancers’ performances rather than highlight them. However, the choreography is very strong and the use of movement is one of the pure joys of this piece.

At the beginning, dancers dressed in white move across the stage while their shadows, dressed in black, mirror them and then become disconnected from them. They dance in amongst each other, creating beautiful shapes and lines, at once suggesting they care for each other and yet inhabit different worlds.

The music, by Brian Eno, also helps to convey this sense of fun and unreality. It compliments the dance and yet adds to the otherworldly atmosphere.

In Sombrero, Decoufle has created an alternative world where shadows dance and nothing is what it seems. A world you’ll be reluctant to return from.

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