Arts: Dance: Take a leap of faith

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The Independent Culture
CONSIDERED COLDLY, it seems the oddest thing for a grown person to do. Jonathan Burrows wiggles his fingers, folds and pumps his hands, zigzags his arms wildly. He looks like a psychotic obsessive, performing an inexhaustible catalogue of gestures that might belong in a factory production line. Yet once you make the leap of faith into his world, you find yourself gripped by it utterly.

He is one of dance's eccentrics, slightly austere, enormously perfectionist, and the programme of his group, Dance Umbrella, ran true to form. As a prologue to "three pieces that take place in small places" (his words) came the no less eccentric composer Matteo Fargion with "Donna Che Beve" (Woman Who Drinks), an eight-minute percussive solo - on three cardboard boxes. The means were minimalist, but the result was virtuosic, with an amazing range of sound.

The same anatomical focus continued with "Hands" (originally made as a film), in which a seated Burrows matched Fargion's voice and piano monosyllables with elaborate hand sentences, like deaf sign language or the hand mnemonics ballet dancers use to memorise steps. After this, the evening broadened out to incorporate the dancers Dana Fouras and Ragnhild Olsen, as well as operational legs, torsos, and especially arms. For "All Together", Fargion closed his piano lid and transformed it into a drum, while the three dancers accumulated vertical arm movements. In "Things I Don't Know", pauses punctuated the choreography, the dancers reappearing to launch into a fresh combination of motifs.

Stephen Petronio, another Dance Umbrella regular, offers a bigger scale with his company, glossier production values and a reservoir of dancerly postures; but the impact in Not Garden is wall-to-wall verbiage. Petronio draws upon many dance sources, from ballet to Trisha Brown, to create hyperactive and brutal sequences. He crams together his diverse components fussily and incongruously, so they never gel. For example, a company sequence of hopped arabesques is jarringly complicated by simultaneously windmilling arms. He requires rigid limbs to shoot out hectically like rotary blades, and joints to wrench themselves into exaggerated angles - not least in the dances he sets for himself, a bald-headed figure who resembles Pierrot in his floppy pyjamas.

Projections feature the names of power-abusers (Bill Gates is up there with Hitler), and pictures of killer sharks and military aircraft: these give an apocalyptic coating (apparently inspired by Dante's Inferno) to what is essentially abstract dance.

All the while, David Linton's music manages to be both obtrusive and banal. Some 40 minutes on, the women sock their partners to the floor, by which time I felt like doing the same to Petronio.