Elixir festival review – older dancers pushing against the void

<span>‘Luminous’: Malou Airaudo and Germain Acogny in common ground[s].</span><span>Photograph: Steven/No info</span>
‘Luminous’: Malou Airaudo and Germain Acogny in common ground[s].Photograph: Steven/No info

Malou Airaudo celebrated her 76th birthday the other night. On stage. Dancing. The applause was led by her co-performer, Germaine Acogny, at the end of their duet common ground(s). Acogny is 79.

Simply seeing these two great performers still making their moves feels like a validation of everything the Elixir festival is about. It’s a shame the piece is thin, relying on the women’s luminous presence for its effects.

It opened a triple bill on the main stage, part of this annual celebration of dancing elders (founded in 2014) that runs across 11 days and in and around the theatre. On opening night, there was an hors d’oeuvre in the foyer in the shape of Christopher Matthews’s durational Act 3, part of a trilogy about the different ages of man. In the final section – inspired by the photography collective PaJaMa, who recorded queer love when it was forbidden – a quartet of over-60s men made slow moves on a mattress. It felt sad, sensual and surprisingly rich.

Back in the theatre, the extraordinary Louise Lecavalier presented Minutes around late afternoon, which was precisely the kind of solo you might expect from the former lead dancer of the influential Canadian group La La La Human Steps. With a fabulously propulsive electronic score, it set Lecavalier, now 65, on a fantastic high-energy, tightly detailed journey of constant movement. There was a sense of dancing in the dark, pushing against the void, hands fluttering, feet constantly impelling her across a lighted square. It was thrilling and thought-provoking.

Ben Duke’s new work White Hare was as sharp and clever as its punning title, setting the wonderful dancers Christopher Akrill, 54, and Valentina Formenti, 51, in a near apocalyptic future elegantly suggested by Delia Peel’s design. The movement was fluent and convincing, the story, in which time reels backwards, often very funny. But its conclusion, where a tortoise called Tipple makes an appearance eating a strawberry, felt like a wasted opportunity. Close, but no cigar.