At the end of Shadowland, by way of an encore, the flexible folk of US-based Pilobolus said thanks – more accurately “cheers” – to the London crowd with a YouTube friendly silhouette romp depicting their journey across the pond.
Via Alicia Keys’ New York to London Calling, they recreated the icons of the two big cities – Abbey Road, Broadway, royalty, rain and yellow taxi cabs with props and bodyshapes.
It was a rousing end to the evening and I would venture to say that the performers – who have more circus in their veins than ballet – felt joyously at home with this brazen crowd-pleaser.
That is not to denigrate what went before. But Shadowland is a different beast. In fact, a number of different beasts including a dog-faced girl, a centaur, an elephant, a large jellyfish and a number of disturbing dream-like forms that came to life, with brilliant effect, on a shadow screen.
This was a journey into a girl’s awakening. Alice went through the looking glass but our slumbering heroine (Lauren Yalango) disappeared into a world of twilight where campfire flickering conjures nightmares.
With fluid grace, a thumping soundtrack, breathless physicality, some wizard lighting, and a level of humour, the girl’s journey becomes enchanting then unsettling. She is ill-used, exploited, bullied and then, lavishly (and almost nakedly) loved.
The journey was typically a child’s. She ventures away from her parents into a scary world knowing that, at any moment, she need only shake herself awake and those scolding oldies will be re-born as her protectors.
Shadowland is ultimately a sequence of imaginative set pieces, Fantasia-style, played out on the fertile ground between dance, cartoon, shadow theatre and illusion.
The basic technique – the shadow play – is as old as the hills and Pilobolus’s take has spawned a million rivals who now line up to cast their shadows across Britain’s Got Talent and their ilk.
But this is the original and the best, the flat screen shapes given the necessary third dimension with a depth of creativity and authenticity not available to the shallow imitators.
Until Mar 30, Peacock WC2A, £15-£40, sadlerswells.com.