Dance: Better by design

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CONTEMPORARY DANCE audiences know Jeremy James well: a neat, darting figure, always there, performing for the best companies - Rambert, Siobhan Davies, DV8. Now 37, he has suddenly become elusive and was not physically present on the Place Theatre stage, although his influence was everywhere. Jeremy James & Company, founded in 1993, is devoted to his reincarnation as a choreographer. His programme, showing in London as part of a longer tour, was deemed stylish enough to open the city's annual "Spring Loaded" showcase for the newer reaches of British dance.

James has clearly learnt important lessons from the choreographers he has worked with. He has a sharp eye for form and pattern, and makes exacting demands on his five dancers, creating hyper-articulate movement for its own sake, like a painter revelling in the possibilities of line and colour.

In the absence of narrative, we look for a clue to underlying intention in a piece's title. We begin with a female trio called Juice, which offers no help. The dancing has a flamboyant mobility - perhaps even a "juiciness" - the body dislocated into separate segments that twist and hiccup. There is a pleasing structural clarity operating on the principle of enlargement: the piece begins with a solo in silence for Tammy Arjona, adds a second dancer and the sound of a pencil on paper, and then the third dancer and some rock music.

Especially pleasing is James's sense of group design, the dance spreading in contrasted striations, collecting in flickering clusters and forming blocks where thrusts and parries slot into each other. In Parts, these textures coexist with Matteo Sargion's obsessive piano phrases, repeated over and over as if someone were practising each hand separately. Once or twice, the hands seem to merge to produce a brief passage of tantalising complexity. And that seems to summarise James's piece: an ambitious juxtaposition of disparate parts, including abstract film projections, that compete for your attention, but sometimes gel together into a satisfying completeness.

In My Big Pants, the dancers battle with some invisible advancing force, shrinking away from it, then retaliating with pushes. Peter Morris's score switches disconcertingly from uncomfortable, tingling electronic filaments to Fifties dance-band music. The splendidly-named Ursula Bombshell dresses the dancers in baggy trousers that explain, at least superficially, the equally splendid title. Is there a further significance? Perhaps James is a tease rather than a mere puzzle. He certainly gives the impression of a conscientious, not a careless mind. Everything is carefully moulded and polished, producing a sophistication that I was not expecting.