DANCE Siobhan Davies Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton

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The Independent Culture
On her latest tour, Siobhan Davies has chosen to couple a new work with a revival of her 1988 success White Man Sleeps. The original piece was crafted to Kevin Volans's score inspired by his memories of Africa. In 1988, Davies was using the string quartet arrangement of the music but, nine years later, she has chosen Volans's original version for harpsichord, viola da gamba and percussion, a baroque line-up that highlights even more strongly the tension between Volans's Western musical consciousness and the music of his childhood home.

The dancers play in the dappled shade of Peter Mumford's clever lighting design. Occasionally one of the group will spin off into a solo as when Deborah Saxon's arms flurry around her head then snake down her body as if she were alternately donning and shedding the movement like a garment. All the dancers are very accomplished but the Australian Paul Old, with his shy, sulky air and strong stage presence, stands out in any company. Old incarnates a choreographer's thoughts with all the fluid elegance one would expect from a Davies dancer, but darkened with a little menace.

The set for Bank, Davies's latest piece, is dominated by a large diagram of a mysterious machine in cross-section: it might be a nuclear rocket, it may just be a vacuum cleaner. In fact, it's Frank Whittle's original design for the jet engine - but, of course, you knew that. It doesn't intrude but it intrigues - an observation that holds for much of the tasteful design that furnishes Siobhan Davies's work.

The six dancers wear trousers of plum and claret and terracotta with matching dip-dyed vests. They act out their human transactions to Matteo Fargion's wonderful Donna Che Beve, which uses bass guitar, harmonica, drum and sundry cardboard boxes - all played by the composer. At times, the music ebbs and flows in gentle tides of percussion, punctuated by abrupt slaps of power and decision. The sounds of pebbles on the beach can suddenly shift up a gear to replicate the clatter of a train over the points. Fargion's playing creates a drama that is sternly absent from the stage.

Davies's swelling uvre can sometimes seem like one of those exquisite, ultra-chic capsule collections where everything tones with everything else. The 1996 work Affections, with its fat, glowing orbs of light that tailed the dancers around the stage like pet rocks, had an endearing, fanciful quality - like a fluorescent fun fur in a wardrobe of beige.

Apart from the odd short run and the occasional abrupt lift in which the women are summarily deposited a few feet to one side, there is scarcely a moment in Bank when the dancers have both feet off the floor - you might catch the odd hop but no one does anything so vulgar as fly. But, although earthbound, Bank offers good rates of interest. There are long sequences in which the dancers duck and dive in a complex game of tag with a peculiar set of rules. The choreographer indulges them with wacky, off-kilter movements involving bow legs and sudden lurching accelerations. This is fun and Siobhan Davies should not be afraid to have a little more of it.

Gardner Arts Centre tonight (01273 685861); Cambridge Arts Theatre 30, 31 May (01223 504444); Sheffield Crucible 3, 4 June (0114-276 9922)

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