Aisha and Abhaya – Royal Opera House: Linbury Theatre, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Director: Kibwe Tavares

Choreographers: Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar

Socket-popping feats of balance and angles alongside unrelenting visual treats trump storytelling in this new world premiere at the Royal Opera House’ Linbury Theatre. A co-production between The Royal Ballet and Rambert, with many others contributing to animation, film and music, it’s a genuine visual feast – classical it isn’t, but intriguing.

Created as a version of the classic fairy story The Little Match Girl by Tavares, the film shown at the start (and which finishes the hour-long show) sets the scene of two lost women, sisters washed up on a beach. They find their way into the bosom of a group of city-dwellers who, as the production switches to a live company on stage, are their companions and guides as they navigate the new urban world. It’s a physical, spiritual and metaphorical journey – as they progress they get closer to “home”, farther and farther until they’re re-united with family long lost.

The movement comes in sections – wave and wave of contortions and sharpness mixed with smooth lines that celebrate physicality and visual impact. Small movements magnify and expand, reverberating from one to the group as a whole – seemingly out of control but always with beautiful technical precision by the cast. It’s breathtaking to watch, at times, and the music and soundscape created by Ori Lichtik and GAIKA settle a vice-like grip that’s impossible to shake. Together, the visual and aural experience, unfortunately, overwhelms the narrative of refugee survival and the absorption into a cityscape.

The Rambert dancers are, as you may expect, in another league. Precise, athletic, expressive – the sheer energy shared through the stage is incredible. Conveying an impression of frenetic urbanity, of confusion, of monotonous and ignoring crowds they excel.

The pace and volume, the hold that the production takes on an audience member just doesn’t let up. It’s a feast, as noted above – but can feel just a little bit too much.

Runs until 9 February 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Beautiful physicality

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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