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Dancing in the isles: British invasion '97.




Watching the group of British dance companies that came to New York City this fall as Dancing in the Isles: British Invasion '97 was problematic for Americans with long memories. Our own country has been such a hotbed of trailblazing modern dance through the decades that much of what we saw in the Brits seemed like American retreads.

Jonathan Burrows's brainy but dry work was task-oriented and antiballetic--none of which is new here. His Stop Quartet takes place on a Mondrian-like pattern of blue and white lights projected onto the floor (lighting design by Michael Hulls). The dance begins with a long duet for Burrows and Henry Montes, done largely in a barefoot slouch, with some fast-stepping tattoos with the feet, squats, and walks on half-toe--a kind of unrelenting rebellion against the ballet world Burrows came out of (he danced with the Royal Ballet).

If you're sympathetic, you see the movement as grounded; if it hits you wrong, the word "leaden" comes to mind. You see the concept and the vocabulary in the first few minutes, and it doesn't fly from there, especially if one isn't beguiled by the performers; the two men are joined much later by two women, and only Fin Walker intrigued me. The tasteful score by Kevin Volans and Matteo Fargion--from piano to chirping birds--seems more spiritually buoyant than the dance itself.

Burrows's Quintet is more formally interesting, more energetic--here a canon, there a little dance for the soles of the feet by dancers lying belly down on the floor--but that leitmotif isn't, unfortunately, developed, and nothing reads as tricky or daring. The accompaniment is Montes encircling and tapping a set of chimes, punctuated by a series of irritating questions about the nature of dance. Still, the piece was pithy in comparison to The Stop Quartet.

The vision, the flow, and the vulnerability of its performers gave Russell Maliphant's Unspoken, choreographed and performed with James De Maria, an advantage over Burrows's work. Unspoken is a long duet with a heavy debt to Steve Paxton's contact improvisation of the seventies. But the piece is successful on its own terms because of the consistency of the dreamlike world it creates. The two dancers work together in waves of movement, bearing each other's weight, up and down, shifting, alternating, yielding and surrendering--not overtly erotic, a partnering by equals. Set to an excellent, spare sound score by Andy Cowton, a note of anguish and foreboding creeps in with a voice repeating, "Dr. Kravitz, you have a visitor in the main lobby."

Unspoken suggests some of the flow but none of the kinkiness of punkster Michael Clark, bad boy-beautiful boy of British dance, who, although not on this tour, was still conjured up in Chris Nash's fine dance photos (shown October 22-November 22 at DIW), particularly in a stunning image of Clark against an orb of light, rows of wooden pinch clothespins studding arm and leg.

At the other end of the British dance world from Clark and Burrows is Siobhan Davies, who has been making dances for a quarter of a century now. Her choreography is so literally self-effacing that a great deal of it faces the back of the stage or is done in profile; even when her dancers face us, their presentation is unusually modest. In Bank, six men and women dance against David Buckland's backdrop of parchment paper onto which is projected a drawing of an engine with sexual connotations. The dancers walk, run, shifting slightly dislocated but centered movement; two women paw at the floor like horses. The score, Donna Che Beve ("The Woman Who Drinks"), was startlingly realized by the composer (Matteo Fargion), drumming on amplified cardboard boxes.

In The Art of Touch (to recorded music by Domenico Scarlatti and Fargion's music for harpsichord played live by Carole Cerasi), women in black vinyl tops and grey chiffon skirts, and men in similar colors, dance in front of Buckland's set of copper panels reminiscent of the Broadway production of Diana Rigg's Medea a few seasons ago. The dance is faster, more energized than Bank, with allusions to ballroom dancing. But when a man places his hand on a woman's stomach, one wonders: they touched, but did they connect? There is something a little anguished about Davies work: It is mysterious and elusive but assuredly crafted and intensely studious in a quite beautiful way.

Other participants in Dancing in the Isles were the Ricochet Dance Company and Wendy Houstoun. Meanwhile, DV8 Physical Theatre made its West Coast debut with director Lloyd Newson's Enter Achilles in Los Angeles.
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Title Annotation:performances of British dance companies in the United States
Author:Smith, Amanda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Feb 1, 1998
Previous Article:Edward II.
Next Article:Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Bam Opera House, October 14-19, 1997.

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