Dance / Counter Moves Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Co Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The British Asian choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh has spent much of the past decade addressing issues of tradition and innovation in Indian classical dance. In works such as Configurations and Byzantium to scores by Michael Nyman and Christos Hatzis, Jeyasingh's exploration and manipulation of Bharatha Natyam proved a welcome departure from the fusty and culturally detached solo recitals by other, less questing, Bharatha Natyam artists. And in striving to uncover the possibilities for natural integration between her own ancient art and the contemporary context in which, inevitably, it stood questioned, she has almost singlehandedly lifted South Asian dance out of its ethnic ghetto.

There's no doubt that Jeyasingh's radical yet judicious investigations have resulted in an important body of work. But the sum is arguably greater than its individual parts. The main problem - and it's a problem that afflicts Jeyasingh's latest work, Lintu ja Tuuli - is that the choreographer's mental acuity, so rigorously applied, serves to deaden the essential spirit of the dance. An air of academic dryness often pervades the structure and delivery of Jeyasingh's choreography, which doesn't help you warm to the dance's overriding aura of cold theory.

Drawing on Finnish folk poems and a 13th- century Sanskrit text, Eero Hameenniemi's score - a song cycle, in Finnish, for soprano Laura Leisma, with music for on-stage string ensemble (OPUS 20) - takes creation myths and the archetypal themes of birth and death as its subject matter. Alluding to the ebb and flow of natural processes, Jeyasingh's choreography exhibits its own cyclical organisation. The dancers end up as they started, in neatly curled resting positions which suggest, at once, sleeping babies and deceased adults. Leisma's final song is a lullaby which sets her wandering between the motionless quartet of women, blessing them as she goes. It is the most palpably connective gesture of a work in which emotional response is guarded lest it interfere with the rhythmic and spacial concerns of the dance. Yet Jeyasingh's choreography - like her dancers - tends to be at its most vital when it leaves behind attempts at expressiveness and concentrates solely on Bharatha Natyam's inherent mathematical complexities of rhythm and the flat, open, grounded aspect of the dancing body.

It is, however, to her detriment that she follows the mood of Hameenniemi's score with such analytical understanding and intelligence. Much of her own force of personality and handsome confidence seem here to consent to oddly polite suffocation under layers of flaccid and irresolute physical action. By contrast, last year's Raid - a dance of attack and retreat inspired by the rules, moves and propulsive energy of the Indian sport known as kabbadi - is Jeyasingh at her best: dance as a game, and science reconceived as strategy.

SOPHIE CONSTANTI

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