HOCUS POCUS at the Albany
Forty-something years ago, the tagline for the blockbuster Christopher Reeve movie Superman was You’ll Believe A Man Can Fly because the special effects were so amazing. Last weekend I saw something that recalled the film-makers’ boast – but this time it was live action, not studio wizardry.
The work in question was choreographer Philippe Saire’s visionary Hocus Pocus, staged at the Albany as part of London’s annual Dance Umbrella festival, which was billed as a show for children but was really a must-see for all ages.
At the heart of it was a open-sided black cuboid, its audience-facing horizontals lit with dazzling white strips that tricked our senses into believing we were watching either from the side or from above. The brightness of the light also intensified the darkness within so that our field of vision on the stage was no more than a metre deep, which allowed parts of the two performers’ bodies to emerge and disappear in magical configurations.
Saire’s choreography, created in collaboration with dancers Philippe Chosson and Mickaël Henrotay-Delaunay, was also magical in its scope. At one point the performers seemed to morph into mysterious geometric shapes. At another, they appeared to fly like birds through the clouds, only for one of them to plunge Icarus-like into an ocean far below where he encountered fabulous sea-creatures and was eventually (and brilliantly) swallowed whole by a huge toothed fish.
The programme notes said the work was designed to inspire children’s imaginations - and judging by the reaction of the youngsters at the Albany it did exactly that. But it also blew away the adults in the auditorium because this was not only truly extraordinary spectacle, it was also a mind-bending work of art.