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Arts: Dance: Fresh ideas in Forsythe saga

GIVEN ITS British premiere to open the Edinburgh Festival's dance programme, Artifact is a remarkable work. When William Forsythe created it 15 years ago, he was not yet the much-demanded master he has become. As a transitional work, originally made for his own Frankfurt Ballet and now thrillingly danced by the Dutch National Ballet, Artifact shows him trying out new ideas (has he ever stopped?) and discovering how to shape them in his own distinctive way.

Arranged in four sections, its choreography mostly uses straightforward classroom steps, but ingeniously arranged for a cast of more than 40 dancers into large patterns that occupy the full stage. Most of the dancing is quiet and controlled, but there are sudden alarming outbreaks. Individuals emerge from the ensemble, and in particular there is a series of fascinating duets which run throughout. One is especially memorable for the way the two dancers remain apart from each other yet convey a powerful link.

Among the other dancers in tights and leotards, colours varying with each scene, a young girl painted grey all over (described in the cast list as Mudwoman) prowls alone, perhaps a symbol of an atavistic, more primitive life. Two former dancers take part both in the action and the accompanying sound, speaking a simple repetitive text by Forsythe, sometimes as an argument but never a conversation: Nicholas Champion's voice dehumanised by a kind of electric megaphone, Kathleen Fitzgerald exuberantly camp.

"Welcome to what you think you see," she cries at one point, and there is talk also of what you hear and what you remember. What you do hear falls into four parts: A Bach Chaconne from the D Minor Violin Partita, a sound collage by Forsythe and two sections, the beginning and end, written by Eve Crossman-Hecht for solo piano and powerfully played by Margot Kazimirska. This piano music draws widely on styles and quotations from baroque to swing, constantly evading expectations, as does Forsythe. The whole work in fact is a great two-hour collage of movement, music, speech and design, with no plot but an intense sense of purpose. I suspect that Forsythe is inviting us to look afresh at the nature of meaning in dance; to give up stories and concentrate on looking and listening. He makes a strong case; one that refreshes our eyes and ears for Mats Ek's opposite approach at Edinburgh next week.

John Percival

Last performance tonight, 0131-473 2000