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Review: Marzo (Barbican Centre, London International Mime Festival)

Dewey Dell’s 'silent sci-fi opera' is a dance piece about clashes between different alien figures

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Here's a space oddity. Alien vs Samurai. Something like that. Dewey Dell's Marzo might be best described as a silent sci-fi opera. Or else, a manga cartoon mime show set on a far-flung planet. It's as beautiful as it is bizarre.

A wounded samurai limps across a lunar landscape, his feet blood red and raw. He encounters an alien: a female, pink and yellow with a blue gobstopper head. A group of pillowy white puffballs – Michelin Men or giant garlic people – bop and bounce around her in peace. Her mate, when he returns, is beaked and aggressive; his crash-helmet head open like a bird on the attack.

Marzo – it means March, the month of war – is little more than a string of danced battle sequences. It's like a choreographed version of Mortal Kombat, all high kicks and karate guards, as these alien figures clash with one another, this way and that, until every combination has been exhausted. Alien vs Samurai. Alien vs Alien. Alien vs Puffball. Samurai vs Obese Starfish. As I say, bizarre – and repetitively so.

But beautiful too, mostly thanks to Yuichi Yokoyama's manga-inspired costumes, each entirely alien. The puffballs wobble like marshmallows, with too many joints on each limb. A tubby, black starfish inflates and deflates, its fins twitch and flicker. Demetrio Castellucci's harsh electro score – part solar-wind, part food processor – thrashes at your ear drums.

There's a story of sorts – or, at least, the sense of one. The samurai intrudes on the aliens. The male defends his mate, then turns on her – savagely. The starfish rolls by. The puffballs fight back. Marzo's oddity is enticing and, gradually, it exerts an unexpected emotional pull.

It builds to an act, essentially, of domestic violence, but, being alien, it holds that at a distance. A female is set upon by her mate. A woman is abused by her partner. One half of us is watching a nature documentary; the other half, a drama. We're both detached and empathetic, accepting and horrified – a confusion of feelings.

But isn't that how we view violence? With a mix of emotion and acceptance; with revulsion and shame and, at the same time, a shrug. It happens. Always has. Always will.

Marzo is, I suspect, a spin on Japanese Noh theatre, a form of ritualised masked performance that dates back to the 14th century. It has the same shape of a hero's quest – that lone, limping samurai – and it swaps the extraterrestrial for the tradition's supernatural elements. Its movement is just as articulated, and its soundscape just as sharp.

Taking an age-old art-form and redressing it for today is a pointed gesture. It flags how little changes; how our stories are still defined by violence and war. Marzo shows an invasion of sorts; a battle for territory perhaps, a fight over a female, the environment fighting back. These things persist. They stretch from the past to the futuristic. They are our rituals.

Marzo runs at the Barbican Centre until 28 January.

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