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The highlights are many in stunning contemporary dance work that evokes the Turkish city of Istanbul

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»Three hours of contemporary dance. One interval. But the night flew by, thanks to the brilliance of the late great Pina Bausch, who choreographed World Cities between 1986 and 2009, the year of her untimely death.

In a first time collaboration, Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican are staging the full work in a cultural tour de force to mark the Olympics coming to London.

Nefes (Turkish for breath) is set in Istanbul. Influences are far and wide: silent movies, slapstick comedy, cabaret, 90s house beats and the gravely tones of Tom Waits all have a part to play.

The overall effect is a seamless composition, intertwining a multitude of impressions of different aspects of Istanbul: the hammans (baths), souks (markets), the Basilica Cistern (an underwater palace), green spaces, nightlife, traffic-filled streets. Not only are landscapes viewed from a fresh perspective, the piece also explores the reactions of the dancers to the city they absorbed during daily tours, before playing out their thoughts in lengthy rehearsals.

And the dancers are excellent: speaking, singing and pantomiming their way across the simple set, effortlessly gliding from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again.

The highlights are many: in the hamman the more obvious motif of decadence is broken up by the comedy of a bubblesoaked character raucously demanding a massage. Towards the end of the show the sensuality of water soaked dancers gently gives way to a stunning finale set to Tom Waits song All the World is Green.

There is not one stereotypical reference point or prejudice in this fascinating portrayal; the lack of cliché explains why the work not only endures but receives standing ovations in packed out theatres.

* Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch – World Cities 2012 opened on June 6 and is at Sadler’s Wells and the Barbican until July 6 2012. Nefes was at Sadler’s Wells on Sunday, June 24.

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