DANCE / A new species: Judith Mackrell on London Contemporary Dance

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The Independent Culture
London Contemporary Dance Theatre opened its London season with a bang - and a whimper. For several years the company has been mired in crisis. It's been led by a succession of temporary directors, and has lost its artistic course. Yet it has remained a major force simply because of its dancers, who, year after year, have continued dancing their socks off and irradiating an often ill-deserving repertoire.

This week, though, notice was finally served that the company, as a large-scale repertory ensemble, has only seven months to run. Next autumn it will be re-formed as a smaller group of dancers at the disposal of a number of different choreographers, including its new director Richard Alston. This could provide the brave new future LCDT has been searching for. But it's very hard on the current dancers, some of whom will be out of a job.

On Tuesday night, though, the performances betrayed no anxiety and were as sharp, generous and lucid as always, particularly in the new work by French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj. Sand Skin has one serious flaw, which is the lack of an overall rhythm or structure. Its moment-by-moment construction induces a curious amnesia about what's gone before, and this is exaggerated by the score, where snatches of Bach, Ligeti and Goran Vejvoda function more as quick sound-bites than as musical argument.

But as a succession of moments, the piece looks ravishing. Its 14 dancers group together like some peculiarly evolved species. Breasting the stage, they seem to be testing new methods of moving - the men undulating heavily along the floor like terrestrial swimmers, the women battening against their partners' torsos in high spinning leaps. There's one duet for two men where Preljocaj magically articulates a sense of half-human, half-animal behaviour. With high pawing footwork, elegantly crooked arms, and necks snakingly entwined, the couple enact a ritual that is both movingly sexual and yet as innocent as the Garden of Eden.

Where Preljocaj has the dancers move in a pristine, pre- human state, Aletta Collins shows them giggling, shoving and flirting like ordinary folk. In Shoes, the dancers are hobbled by a range of hideously clumpy footwear - which, for reasons unclear, they're occasionally allowed to remove. Individual dancers also make little breaks for freedom before being elbowed back into the gang. The piece actually feels like a very long crowd-scene. But, although there's some funny and vivid physical argy-bargying, you do keep waiting for the principals to arrive - to move the scene on a bit and give it some drama and sense.

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(Photograph omitted)

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