Dance: The pleasures of deviation

Bound to Please Arts Theatre, Cambridge

Lloyd Newson's work for DV8 is complex at the best of times. In Bound to Please he has deliberately set out to avoid traditional theatrical pleasures like exposition and resolution in favour of a rich, multi-layered approach to his subject. And your chosen subject is? Dance as a metaphor for the elimination of individuality. You have 70 minutes starting from ... Now.

We open with the 67-year-old Diana Payne-Myers in black practice clothes before a wall of mirrors gliding by on the stage-revolve to the tinkling strains of a musical box. Behind her, glimpsed through a narrow doorway, a party of young ravers twitch and shrug within a movement system as coded and uniform as a ballet. Ian MacNeil's ingenious set rotates as the scene changes, the walls folding and unfolding on their axis to create discrete spaces that make brilliant use of the small stage.

The disco dancers, already counting beneath their breath, metamorphose into solitary waltzers and twirl dreamily through the room until put off their stroke by Wendy Houston, who passes among them disrupting the tidy rhythm of their dance. Back at the dance studio, neatly tricked out in black leotards, the company's eight dancers, led by Robert Tannion, go through daily class. "Right, left, right, left, right, right" intones Tannion briskly. "Wrong," mutters Wendy Houston, who then asks the unthinkable: "Why are we going to do this anyway?" "I'm just trying to get everyone to be the same," Tannion replies, evenly. That does it. Exasperated by the tidiness of it all, she sneaks around the studio pushing dancers off- balance.

Although scarcely a narrative work, Bound to Please definitely has a heroine in Houston. Naughty, unconventional and disobedient, she subverts any attempt to sand down the rough edges of her personality. She may obligingly perform an arabesque, then pull down her pants and begin scratching her bum. But the pressure to conform prettily proves too much even for her: "Good Wendy," she says to herself, after completing a dizzy series of fouettes, and slips tragically into the value system that she has hitherto despised.

Once outside the shell of the room, the dancers reveal their other faces: Wendy Houston secretly practises her arabesque on the roof; Diana Payne- Myers and her young lover embrace in a narrow corridor. Lloyd Newson is alarmed at dance's insistence on youth and beauty, and his use of Diana Payne-Myers's emaciated naked body is unquestionably a valid challenge to our assumptions about what dancers are supposed to look like. I have to say, however, that I have never seen a naked 67-year-old washing their armpits in a bucket before and that I am in no particular hurry to repeat the experience. It isn't a matter of age - I have enough trouble with Javier de Frutos. I can't help finding nudity a distraction: my mind wanders and I start thinking about signing up for a gym or getting a lock for the bathroom door.

By the closing sequence, we are back in the never-never land of unison with four dancers doing a cheesy little routine of leaps and battements against a Rosenthal blue backcloth to music that slyly parodies the banal minimalism so much in vogue. Their Prozac smiles stretch from ear to ear as they deliver a seamless stream of choreographic junk. It's a set-up, of course - unison wouldn't be worthwhile if it were always as bad as Newson's satire suggests - but the point is splendidly made. In conclusion, Diana Payne-Myers stands before a mirror only to see her reflection disappear: try too hard to please and you lose your very soul.

To Sat, Arts Theatre, Cambridge (01223 503333); 2-3 April, Swan, High Wycombe (01494 512000); 10-12 April, Tramway, Glasgow (0141-287 3900); and touring

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