Dance: Contemporary meets classic


SHOULD YOU be able to see all a performance? Yes may seem the self-evident answer, except that an event such as 13 Different Keys has been constructed in the knowledge that most people will not see everything.

13 Different Keys was commissioned by Artangel, catalysts extraordinaire, who spark one-off collaborations between artists and specific sites, and between different forms of expression. With 13 Different Keys, dance meets the industrial layout of the Atlantis Building, brewery-turned-art gallery, in London's Brick Lane; and Siobhan Davies's contemporary movement meets the Royal Ballet's cut-glass classicism.

The stage, a catwalk of three segments in an oblique cross, is designed to fit round the building's pillars. It is a fun stage, allowing interesting proximity to the dancers, a stage with knobs on - or rather off - as both the pillars and other spectators hinder your view. It's announced as a "promenade performance", but people stay put, either for fear of disturbing others or of losing their front-line space. I sat on the floor alongside the stage, which turned out fine.

It is especially frustrating not to see when the dance is so good. Is it the French baroque music that lends it its courtliness, or is courtliness integral to the dance? 13 Different Keys, named for Marin Marais's 13 different keys, is an equal interlocking of sight and sound. On a fourth, raised platform, the musicians - Reiko Ichise (viola da gamba) and Carole Cerasi (harpsichord) - play pieces by Marais and Francois Couperin, now meditatively delicate, now broad-brush swinging chords.

The choreography is about the commonality of dance languages, despite their different approaches. The Royal Ballet's trio - Deborah Bull, Peter Abegglen, Jenny Tattersall - have discarded their shoes, so they are now on a barefoot par with Matthew Morris and Gill Clarke. Yet they still don't look quite the same. The uplifted torso of ballet contrasts with the natural stance of contemporary dance. Bull, for example, with her emphasis on a pose's finished harmony, can't match Clarke's juicy weightiness and concern with process rather than result, with movements that link one pose to another.

Does Davies's choreography simply appear more balletic because of the Royal Ballet's presence? Or has she actually made it more balletic? Tattersall's solos, speedily darting and pointy, could only be achieved by a ballet dancer; her motif jumps are like opened-out classical grands soubresauts. Abegglen embroiders liquid daisy chains of small balletic steps; and when he performs fondu arabesques they belong to ballet. Yet those same arabesques have always been part of Davies's vocabulary, with the long, uncluttered contours of contemporary dance.

Clarke performs an extraordinary solo of gestures, shaking off imaginary water drops, pulling invisible threads, pummelling, throttling. Davies is so judicious an artist, she has produced a merger of styles that is subtle, yet also draws quiet attention to the differences of tonality, just as the music does. 13 Different Keys is fascinating choreography that augurs well for Davies's first Royal Ballet piece at the end of the year.

`13 Different Keys' finishes tonight. Tel: 0171 387 0031

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