DANCE / Claps for the clodhoppers

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The Independent Culture
SINCE its risk-taking heyday in the Seventies, London Contemporary Dance Theatre has mutated into a large-scale, mainstream, touring company with an identity crisis. It could not hold on to Richard Alston and Siobhan Davies, its most distinguished choreographers, and failed to attract the next generation, who prefer working on a small scale with their own dancers. It has also had two unsuccessful artistic directors in as many years, recruited to replace Robert Cohan, who has been recalled to act as artistic adviser. And it is smarting from accusations of turning its back on audiences with cool minimalist works when the demand is for the meat of life, love and relationships.

Its London season reflects its lack of strong artistic leadership: the two-week programme is a patchwork of three new pieces and two performed last year. The choice shows a sure hand but a mind divided between abstract Eighties works and the more red- blooded pieces of the Nineties. A combination of the best from each programme would have been more successful than either programme by itself: Mark Morris's Motorcade for virtuosity, Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal's Rikud for wit and cleverness, and Rooster, Christopher Bruce's hit set to early Rolling Stones songs, for sheer foot-tapping fun.

My Father's Vertigo by Amanda Miller, an American with the Frankfurt Ballet, turned out to be a dinosaur. Concerned with moving rather than expressing, it is one of the minimalist pieces that so alienated audiences in the past. The moves are wide and free, the sort of thing you do in front of the bathroom mirror when you think no one is watching. It is about 'connecting ourselves with a place on the planet'; I would have settled for connecting with the dancers.

Mark Morris's Motorcade is also abstract, but speaks through precise, intricate moves with straight spines and aircraft arms, gliding silkily along the phrases of the Saint-Saens Septet (opus 65). Last week the complexities of Motorcade eluded most of the company, apart from Darshan Singh Bhuller and Sheron Wray. This week they seemed to be growing into it.

Rikud, Hebrew for dance, was an obvious choice for revival. It proved popular last year as an iconoclastic attack on the aristocratic ideal of ballet. The orchestra is at the back of the stage, its members led to their places by dancers in flowing khaki dresses and Doc Martens. The men wear dresses too, making a nonsense of the love fantasies of ballet. They are weighty instead of weightless. They subvert delicacy by crashing to the ground, legs in the air, unconcerned about showing knickers (or Y-fronts) to the world. Bottoms stick out, cellulite shimmers. In a marching sequence the dancers are deliberately crass, pretending to be clodhoppers from the Israeli army. This is not make-believe but a world so full of chutzpah it defies belief. It has depth and intelligence and deserves a long shelf life.

(Photograph omitted)