DANCE / A quarrelling collaboration: Judith Mackrell on the Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs in a slightly tarnished Precious at The Place

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The Independent Culture
In their latest piece, Precious, the Cholmondeleys and the Featherstonehaughs go for gold. Taking alchemy as their starting point, the 10 dancers progress from a state of base and frenzied desire to monumental calm, moving from dark shadows to gleaming metallic light.

The work contains some of the most ambitious movement that Lea Anderson, the director, has created. Yet choreographically the transformation to gold remains frustrated by one dross element - the score. Composed by Steve Blake and played live by the (aptly titled) Victims of Death, its drearily pounding percussion and inertly strident brass annihilate the detail and invention of the movement. It is one of those collaborations where dance and music never fuse into more than the sum of their parts - they quarrel with each other continually.

You feel this most frustratingly in the first part, 'Black', where Anderson pulls out all the choreographic stops. Breaking free of the gestural body-hugging movement that's dominated much of her work, she sends nine dancers, uniformly dressed in black, bolting and leaping through space. As their torsos flip and their feet soar and skid, there's a rich and fascinating play of free-falling, stuttering, stamping, gliding rhythms.

However, because your body is being simultaneously bludgeoned by Blake's music, this kind of rhythmic detail is nearly lost - it strikes the eye, but it can't sing in your nerves. It's equally hard to focus on the mass and pattern of the choreography, and the music also blurs the movement's emotional currents. These centre on a hectic drama of desire, so that as the dancers race around the stage it's as if they're pursuing someone - anyone with whom to connect. Sometimes one of them lands a partner and tries to nail them to the floor. And in the middle of it all is a shy and careful boy-meets-girl duet. Teresa Barker and Rem Lee grope hands and lock heads in a tilting, circling embrace where their bodies yearn but their eyes slide away in self-conscious confusion.

The object of desire as tantalising mystery, just out of reach, is explored again in the 'White' section, danced by the five male Featherstonehaughs. This is a kind of Braille dance, in which the white-suited men explore their faces with their hands then clasp and support each other's bodies - their expressions blank and blind. As if giving up the attempt to know each other through touch, they then dance with blown up photographs of their faces - bizarrely suggesting that these smooth, black and white images might yield more.

In 'Red' five women Cholmondeleys in deep crimson velvet seek then lose a state of equilibrium. They sit gravely on chairs but twitch and fall to the ground, one reaches for another's hand but is left sprawling at her feet. In the 'Gold' section the dancers and the piece finally achieve a temporary and magical resolution as all 10 performers enter in long golden cloaks.

Sandy Powell, the designer, has worked miracles with fabric and cut as the cloaks ripple and spark like molten gold. Serene and statuesque, they walk through a series of grand and simple designs. Unfortunately Blake not only gives Anderson too much music for this section, he also fails to create the kind of sound that would enrich its spell. As more of the same structureless din bangs away, the extraordinary and arresting glow of images created by the dancers begins to fade.

'Precious' runs to 10 April at The Place, London WC1 (071-387 0031), then tours.

(Photograph omitted)