Icon review – Antony Gormley's amazing feat of dancing, churning clay

Sadler’s Wells, London
GöteborgsOperans Danskompani paired the sculptor with choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui for this thrilling piece exploring how we mould and remould ourselves

Sculptor Antony Gormley is credited as the designer of this collaboration with choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, but in reality he lets the dancers do the work. Over the course of an hour, three tonnes of clay are moulded, pounded and remoulded by their hands as Icon sets out to show how we create objects, communities and ideas, then destroy them and start all over again.

This is the UK debut for Sweden’s GöteborgsOperans Danskompani. They’re an impressive troupe, fully in tune with Cherkaoui’s earnest and often spiritual world. Dressed in monkish garb via Belgian high fashion (courtesy of Jan-Jan Van Essche), they are like people relocated from trivial real life into the rituals of some other plane: a cult, in essence, whose members are united by an intensity of purpose and a subsuming of the self into the group – and also into movement. Cherkaoui’s musical choices underline that spiritual tone, his love for haunting, ancient songs – in this case from the Mediterranean and Japan, the combination of nations adding up to somewhere otherworldly.

Patrick Seebacher and Janine Koertge in Icon.
Pure urge … Patrick Seebacher and Janine Koertge in Icon. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

It’s a habit of Cherkaoui to have one dancer, and then the whole company in unison, deliver a conversational lecture, a kind of TED talk, while posing arms and hands in rhythmic semaphore. It might be annoyingly mannered if it didn’t add an interesting layer to the themes. Here, the lecture is a Jason Silva text on cognitive framing – the art of remoulding ourselves through the way we perceive our experiences.

The dancers also deliver a paean to paying attention in the moment – “spontaneous flow” – which, when they’re not talking, seems to be exactly what’s happening to them, whether it’s the whole company pulled in waves by a strong undertow, or in some extraordinary writhing and melting solos where the dancers’ agency is seemingly replaced with a pure urge that hoicks, lashes and churns their bodies. Michael Munoz is especially thrilling, an extra inch of flex in every move.

For all the specificity of the text, and of the moulded props, which include baseball caps, cameras and cocktail glasses, Cherkaoui gracefully grazes the big themes. People are pliable. Cultures are built and obliterated. Nothing is really sacred. Everything can be remade.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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