Zero Point at the Barbican review: a visually stunning but eventually tiresome mash-up of ballet and Japanese butoh

Steve Dinneen
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Zero Point

For a while, Darren Johnston’s Zero Point is mesmerising: the bodies of a dozen or so Japanese dancers twist and warp as they contort through beams of light. Projections turn them into living blocks of static. At times they dance alone in the dark, your eyes only making out vague outlines of limbs.

The audience, meanwhile, is toyed with – strobe lighting temporarily blinds you, pulses of bass (a kind of industrial techno dirge with the reverb turned up to eleven) rattles inside your lungs. You feel like an integral part of this strange, avant garde carnival.

But by half way through the hour-and-change performance, it runs out of steam. The ‘ballet meets Japanese butoh in the dark’, at first outrageous, begins to drag: the same shapes thrown by different dancers. If there’s a narrative, it’s only ever glimpsed in jagged little fragments. A woman might be imprisoned in a prism of light, guarded by... I want to say some kind of crab?

“Zero Point” is a physics term for the lowest possible energy that a quantum mechanical system can have, a reference to Johnston’s fascination with the overlap between the spiritual and the scientific. But it’s all so abstract as to be essentially meaningless, and the title ends up being unfortunately literal.

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