Genesis begins in a methodical manner, the company dressed in white lab coats with masks over their mouths. As they wheel tall glass boxes in a precise choreographed pattern they count out loud, one voice gradually joined by the others until the sequence jumbles and dissolves into music.
In collaboration with Yabin Wang, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has created a work about origins; of life, of the universe, of whatever you might read into the multitude of ideas packed into this piece. The clinical opening of Genesis is suggestive of a laboratory. The dancers watch each other from behind their glass boxes, take notes and conduct experiments on their fellow humans. In a Frankenstein style moment a body bag is wheeled on, the “corpse” within twitched into life beneath the controlling hands of a white coated dancer. It’s a moment of incredible physicality – his limbs flop like dead weights but, at a flick of the “scientist’s” wrist, his body twists and flips on the table top with spectacular agility.
The laboratory is a place where the origins of things can be seen on a cellular level, in many ways a logical place to start. One of the vocalists – the music for Genesis is performed live – explains the construction of DNA, how it mirrors and duplicates itself, each time losing a tiny component so that every renewal effectively contributes to its destruction. It’s an image that recurs in various forms throughout Genesis, whether its two dancers becoming four, splitting into their new pairings like a kaleidoscope shifting patterns, or the sense of slow deconstruction as ideas are explored, then left behind.
So much happens in this work it’s hard to make something coherent of it. You grasp the sense of an idea but then it changes and the thoughts you’ve pieced together slip away. Each idea Cherkaoui plays with is intriguing yet, with a multitude of images to absorb, his exploration sometimes continues too long. The initial impact of the idea, so often striking, gets lost and begins to feel laboured.
However complex or overdrawn Genesis gets – stick with it. Towards the end the work blossoms into a thing of luxurious beauty. Inside a glass box, a dancer dressed in white plays with movements which seem to wrap around herself. As she steps out, the work breaks into a sequence of dream like imagery, Yabin Wang reaching for her with elongated arms, the result of a clever trick performed by fellow company members. This sudden surrealism stands in contrast to the clinical precision of the opening. The work loses its previously segmented structure, the choreography frees up and you forget about attempting to piece Genesis together.
In a stunning solo Wang draws the work to a close. It’s a dance in which the movement extends to the very ends of her hair – literally. She wraps it around her arms, neck and upper body, and pulls on it in such a way that it almost initiates her movements.
Sometimes this is a piece of beauty, sometimes of oddity; often confusing. It’s a testament to Cherkaoui’s skill that the conflicting feelings and confused thoughts that Genesis evokes in the end lean towards genius rather than underdevelopment. Somehow Genesis manages to feel profound while remaining nonsensical – and, when playing with themes of life and creation, that’s exactly what it needs to be.