DANCE / Calm in an arctic limbo

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The Independent Culture
SO WHAT if men are aggressive, designed to be hunters and to fend off danger? Laurie Booth is different. One of Britain's most gifted choreographers, his style is fluid, silky, strangely silent, physical but not macho. With River Run, he creates a tender and intimate piece in which he and his company of four others quietly trust themselves, each other and their Ice Age world. Their calm is enormously comforting in this arctic limbo.

Booth's river does not so much run as flow, gently coaxing you off your feet as it drifts along. Its path does not follow a narrative course, however; rather than content, there is context. Booth creates a prehistoric universe with props: five large icebergs (sculpted by Anish Kapoor, last year's Turner Prize winner)and lush octophonic sounds, composed by Hans Peter Kuhn, that encircle the auditorium. Someone in shoes walks around and around your head, water gushes, poems are muttered, mantra-like. All conspire to create a Himalayan ambience that is mystical without being mysterious.

Into this moonlit world dancers shimmer, slicing the air with javelin arms in moves from the martial arts. They are in no hurry, for the glacial landscape holds no surprises for them. Then Booth, a natural soloist, invents partnering of continuous contact, even if only by a fingertip, in a duet with the superb Ellen van Schuylenburch. They are new lovers in one skin: touching, discovering, unwilling to let go. His duet with Jo Chandler is equally dazzling: two young cubs at home with sex play.

The blue-white world transmutes to red-grey. The sounds are percussive, there are Nasa bleeps, a telephone rings, a dog barks. We're in space but touch down in the Aztec empire as the brass and drums brings the dance to a triumphant close.

The Cholmondeleys, an all- women group, together with its brother company, The Featherstonehaughs, embark on a voyage of their own in Precious, choreographed by Lea Anderson, who founded The Cholmondeleys in the mid-Eighties.

The 10 dancers, five men, five women, are molecules that forge, diverge, bubble and sink as they transform themselves from base metal to gold. The piece is split into four sections, but it is only the first and last, when men and women come together, that succeed. The energy, ideas and rigour drain away in the separate turns for the men in white tie and tails and women in red velvet evening dresses.

Dancers in black bound in to Steve Blake's thrashing score to form lines across the stage. Energy is high as dancers roll, jump, frog-leap, twist, send out a leg. The moves are expansively choreographic as one sequence leads to another. The best is Lea Anderson and Rem Lee's duet, which shows Anderson still increasing the range of her dance grammar. Hips touch and legs splay, backs meet and heads rest on shoulders. They turn to face each other in a scrum, fanning out into a kaleidoscope of shapes. Later, a dancer moulds another like Plasticine, testing if an arm goes this way or that, staying true to the theme. Then the experiment goes awry.

Men in white come on, deliberately slowing the pace, but inadvertently letting the helium out of the balloon. Each man carries a large black-and-white photograph of himself, and the hands do all the talking. Fingers move over the photographs, over faces, their own and others'. They explore but never thrill to discovery, travel but never arrive. The piece continues to fizzle out in the red section, where the women roll over chairs, moving to the ground where they loll about like floorcloths in their slinky dresses.

The Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs reject male and female stereotypes, preferring androgyny. However, the white and red sections of Precious somehow manage to be asexual, dated rebellions more wan that lost.

The end is gold - literally. Men and women in floor-length gold cloaks hold their arms up like Grecian figures on an urn. Arms and hands move but eyes remain fixed in stern expressions. When dancers move, they move with awesome quiet, almost ceremoniously, as though paying homage to those forces that have allowed them to become precious; a dignified wrapping around a decidedly mushy centre.

'Precious': The Place (071-387 0031) to Sat, and on tour to 1 May. 'River Run' on tour to 20 May.

(Photograph omitted)