The Thread review – Russell Maliphant and Vangelis join forces in a Hellenic Riverdance

The Thread has the hallmarks of a particular kind of artistic product: a concept thought up by a cultural production company that pulls together a team of creatives, including at least one big name, to design a backable and saleable package, preferably with crossover audience appeal.

In this case, the Greek production company Lavris invited Russell Maliphant (who comes with his long-standing lighting designer Michael Hulls) to intertwine his own world of contemporary choreography with that of Greek folk dance; and asked Vangelis – the 1980s synth-rock sensation who famously scored soundtracks for Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner – to compose the music.

The resulting work proceeds in fits and starts. Performed by 12 contemporary and six traditional dancers, its opening section is rooted in folk dance, the performers stitching together bobbing step patterns as they wind in daisy-chain lines. The electro-panpipe ambience bathes the scene in mysticism, stringing the dancers along for quite some time. From then on, the piecemeal scenes flip between folk and contemporary idioms.

Though this produces some intriguing intersections, the choreography only really blooms when Maliphant transfigures the held stance and placed turns of traditional dance into his own far more elastic style. Then he can jettison the folky footwork and concentrate on his forte: bodywork.

The body elastic … The Thread by Russell Maliphant and Vangelis. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

That focus produces several spellbinding contemporary dance scenes: a cantilevered quartet of climbs and topples; sequences of torsion and tension; ribboning cartwheels, liquid slides. In between, the folk dance is shoehorned into formations that sometimes veer towards a kind of Hellenic Riverdance. The overbearing music, which can’t let a downbeat pass by without thwacking it, gives breathing space to neither dance style.

The concept has both produced some excellent material and tied it down. To liberate it, just snip the thread.

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