Green goes the rhythm

26th January 1996 at 00:00
Alanna and the Tree, Green Candle Dance Company, Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadler's Wells

Norma Cohen sees a dance show about saving the Brazilian rain forest. Would you vote for a president who wanted to take away all your hamburgers?" asks Mr Big. The audience from Hanover Junior School, Islington, in selfless unison, cries "Yes!" as Luke Burrough's Mr Big (an oil magnate on a stretch scooter) jostles with Ms President in an electioneering tussle.

The scene is Brasilia, all offices and hooting traffic conveyed by concertina screens of high rise blocks housing a knock-kneed President in pyjamas and gold slippers.

Green Candle Dance Company's Alanna and the Tree for seven to 12s, touring till April, has an urgent ring. This daughter of rubbertappers lives in a village in the rain forest. Hearing of plans to build a road that would destroy village and forest, she sets off to petition the President, encountering exploitive multinationals en route.

Director and choreographer Fergus Early says: "I first conceived of Alanna last spring. Protests against roadbuilding programmes were in the news at home, with protesters building amazing tree-dwellings in an attempt to foil developers' bulldozers. All over the world, similar struggles are happening between the forces of 'progress' and those who want to preserve natural habitats and protect threatened wildlife and ancient ways of life."

During a recent boat trip through Amazonia, Early found that "the meeting with the rain forest was profoundly affecting: the scale of the water, the forest itself and wildlife it supports. When I got back to England, a country we succeeded in deforesting hundreds of years ago, my response to trees was changed. The central relationship in the piece, between a young girl and a tree, is one we all have, whether or not we know it."

A rustle of nutshells, trickling water and a screech of birds conjure up a forest glowing with fruit as Alanna, expansively danced by Cathy Steward, dreams her way through the jungle, conjuring creatures from thin air: tarantula, parrot, heron, iguana, crocodile, piranha, humming bird. With drumming feet, the audience responds to Sally Davies's atmospheric music for the two-note berimbau, percussion, accordion, flute and trumpet in a mix of samba, crooning and rap.

Alanna persuades a rasta-haired "tree" to join her, gently uprooting him for their journey to the big city. A snarling chain saw interrupts their path and Jeannette Sugg's red-necked logger dances a high-kneed, hip-swivelling hoe-down. Alanna enlists the support of a giant snake and the convert President, a metronomically high-kicking Bureaucrat (Sugg again), to deal with sweet-talking, hip-hopping Mr Big.

The message is conveyed in a joyful, carnivalesque, comic-strip style summoning up the rich multi-cultures of Brazil that has the audience cheering at every minor victory. A brolly-twirling, cart wheeling Frevo dance is the showstopping finale. Accompanied by an excellent environmental resource pack for teachers, this is another winner from Green Candle.

Green Candle, 309 Aberdeen House, 22 Highbury Grove, London N5 2EA (0171 359 8776)

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