Dance: Chaucer is jigging in his grave

Rambert: God's Plenty Palace Theatre, Manchester Sara Baras Sadler's Wells, London

It was inevitable that dance would succumb to Dome Syndrome sooner or later: some dance director would take it into their head to create a spectacle crammed with allusions to the past 1,000 years. Either that, or rejig some famous early monument of native creativity to link up the long-ago with the now. God's Plenty, Christopher Bruce's most ambitious work since he took over at Rambert five years ago, does both.

A selection of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales provides the gist of the action, though the show runs for a good half hour before we get even a sniff at the Prologue. First, Bruce gives a resume of early English history, and this is almost his undoing. A long opening dance by a pair of hairy, horned figures registers the old pagan ways; then follows a singing monk, a dance for flagellating sinners, another for copulating couples, and a trio of Pythonesque knights off to the Crusades. Some of the images are mystifying: boogying nuns, sexy Saracen warrior women. Others are woolly and indistinct. Dance styles stretch from pastiche ancient Greek to vaudeville, which Rambert's 22 dancers execute with their customary high spirits. But the overall effect is a muddle.

The guesswork stops when Chaucer's narrator arrives - actor Ian Knowles seems to have learnt his confidential style of delivery from old Frankie Howerd monastery sketches - and so the Prologue and four Tales unfold. But it's a rum kind of dance show that leans so heavily on the spoken word. The dancers chip in bits of dialogue too, but you wish they wouldn't. They also sing - another bad idea.

Dominic Muldowney's music is otherwise delightful in its reshaping of 13th-century dances and fragments, ranging from delicate solo ballads sung in Old French to rumbustious Riverdance-style jigs. And Rambert's band, the London Musici, give impressive accounts on such exotic instruments as the shawm, the oud and the Turkish lauto. But why hide them in the pit, and why pump the sound through speakers? Some of the audience had no idea there were real people producing it.

Chaucer's Prologue unrolls in merry style, and then we get to meet the bawdy Wife of Bath (with Australian accent) and see enacted the Miller's Tale complete with bared bums; but even this lewd lark-about seemed to strain for its effects. Best was the Knight's Tale, in which Bruce creates a coolly ravishing solo for the beloved Emily - viewed through a high window of the Knight's prison cell - and a lively ballet for the jousting tournament, with knights careering about on skirted steeds.

Too little in this two-hour piece has this kind of clarity or wit about it. But to his credit, Bruce has gone out of his way to avoid tired Olde- Englishisms. Es Devlin's sets are stark, torn-paper reliefs of hills and skies and deserts, lit in stunning colours by Ben Ormerod. Yet the director also allowed himself the crashing cliche of a narrator on the side of the stage with quill poised for writing. God's Plenty- Dryden's phrase for Chaucer's poem - is in this case a mixed blessing.

Hopes were likewise raised and dashed at Sadler's Wells, where a 28- year-old native of Cadiz called Sara Baras blazed a trail for the "new" flamenco with her troupe of trousered young women. Aping the men in flamenco is nothing new. Carmen Amaya did it in the 1950s, when its shock-value was significant. In this setting, the wearing of trews looked more like a decision by the wardrobe mistress along the lines of "We've had dresses in three numbers so now let's have slacks."

The show, entitled Sensaciones, is very much a star-vehicle, with a 20-minute lead-in by the company before Baras so much as pokes her nose round the curtain. The trouble is there's not a great deal, beyond her glamorous outfits, to distinguish the star from her satellites. Her dancing is highly competent, but it doesn't make you sit up and want more, even after the dancer has rushed, arms outstretched, to the edge of the stage, presumably to cue in a thundering ovation.

Sara Baras has a good body and a pleasant face, but that's not enough. She has neither the plump prettiness nor the hawk-profiled fierceness of the most memorable flamenco women. And the peculiar half-lighting of her show only serves to effaces her further. She does some impressive things, especially with her feet, which are heavily miked. But you get the feeling that the improvisation, the impulse of the moment, has been rehearsed into oblivion. Only her musicians (fine singers, fabulous guitarists, a gritty flautist) display the true spirit of flamenco.

`God's Plenty': Wycombe Swan (01494 512000) 13 & 14 Oct, then touring. Sara Baras: Sadler's Wells, EC1 (0171 863 8000) to 25 Sept

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style