Although pop culture has reduced Greek dance to pottering around broken bits of pottery strewn around the dance floor at weddings, Russell Maliphant’s choreography in The Thread displays a more authentic and nuanced version of Greek dance. The performers hold hands and trace patterns across the stage, ducking under each other’s arms while rhythmically stepping in time. But more than demonstrating Greek dance, Russell Maliphant & Vangelis’ The Thread explores the connection between Greek traditional dance and modern dance, as well as its relationship with other global dance genres.
Russell Maliphant & Vangelis ‘The Thread’
The show opens as a circular cluster of dancers bask in golden light and arch backwards, collectively blooming like a sunflower. Then, they begin to uncoil and fold into other patterns. Each person is simply a node in the long thread, as they benignly pass each other or temporary split off into smaller factions. Even as they break off to form new patterns, a sense of unity prevails.
This introductory segment continues for some time, but the eye doesn’t tire of watching the slow metamorphosis; it’s extremely satisfying – like watching a slow shifting screensaver.
But Vangelis’ complex, layered music draws attention to the dancers’ steps, a slow-quick-quick gait (like the rumba, but succinct) that propels them into new formations.
Eighteen dancers perform in The Thread, half men and half women. The busy sound score spaces out with melodic harp strums as four sylph-like women pose on stage; they crease at the torso and slowly adjust their serpentine arms – the vignette conjuring images of models on Greek vases, a subdued version of the plucky muses in Disney’s Hercules.
When the men perform, the serenity gives way to jubilant kicking and stomping: a jolly, non-alcoholic and literal “knees up.”
Their percussive slaps of the thigh conjure images of flamenco, and slaps of the foot, Chinese martial arts. As they dance in a line, legs bending and extending in sync, the audience can notice similarities with Irish step dance – although they are able to show camaraderie in a way that the formal staging of Riverdance doesn’t allow.
The Greek dance traditions are not just a springboard for choreographic inspiration; they remain at the heart of the show. A group performs, illuminated in centre stage by Michael Hulls, flanked by two trios of modern dancers upstage. The modern dance creates movement to complement the Greek dancers’ choreography, in a sense, playing second fiddle. But the modern dancers have other times to shine, particularly in the penultimate segment.
Dancers trickle onto stage, often in pairs, following the long white strip of light to stage left. They scooch on, sliding on their shins and caterwauling the entire way across with fluid floor-work and cartwheels, seemingly caught in a slipstream. The performers loop around, running behind stage to begin again on stage right, to create the flowing illusion and reference the singular direction of time.
When performers enter from both sides of the stage, they link past and future with the present. The individuals are not physically connected, holding hands or forming a conga line, but they dance in unison to the music as a community. And when they project their focus outwards, they extend their invitation to the audience, who join in with a lively applause.
Russell Maliphant & Vangelis’ The Thread is a 75-minute production, with no interval. The show premiered at Sadler’s Wells on 15 March 2019, and it will run at the London theatre until 17 March 2019.
Were you at the world premiere of The Thread – or have you seen Russell Maliphant’s other choreography? Let us know how you reacted in the comments below. Otherwise tell us about your experience watching or trying Greek dance!