Dance: Davies transcends herself

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The Independent Culture
Siobhan Davies

Swan, High Wycombe

Companhia Deborah Colker

Peacock, London

The lilac's out and it's the time of year when , our most discreet and satisfying maker of dances, presents her annual bouquet of ideas to a waiting world. That's no exaggeration. The growing audience for dance as a serious contemporary art has greeted Davies's work with mounting anticipation. Season after season, she and her fine company have brought forth beauteous things. This isn't dance to make your eyes pop. We're talking here of cool, filigreed movement that seems to seep into the recesses of memory. Balm for the soul, more like.

Wild Air is Davies's latest creation, and it surpasses almost everything. Revisiting elements of her best past works - the spacious languor of Wild Translations, the exhilarating detail of The Art of Touch, the musical alchemy of Affections - it also does something entirely new. As Davies's first-ever long piece - 80 minutes plus interval instead of the usual 30 - it makes a bold statement about the ability of dance which has no shred of narrative content to sustain spectators' attention for an entire evening and send them home replete. This it does, supremely.

We are in an exotic landscape bounded by David Buckland's corrugated screens which, at different times, suggest bamboo walls, moonlit night or some golden Asian temple. A series of startling holograms spring out of the darkness - a spinning geometric shape, a slowly revolving chair, a stepladder, a window frame - prosaic objects made magical by their gleaming isolation. Yet they seem more real than the dancers, whose bodies flicker and dissolve under Peter Mumford's dusky lighting.

The opening solo, by shaven-headed Paul Old, is almost monastic in its coolness and lithe control; another by Henry Montes has him puckishly shimmering like a moth, barely grazing the floor in defiance of his lanky physique. Beautiful Sarah Warsop strikes prayerful one-legged stillnesses which turn into a squiggle of lambent flame. Deborah Saxon carbines the air, her arms slicing blades of pure energy.

If Wild Air is about anything, it seems to be about contrasts of dynamic and texture, about reality and seeming reality, the way solid flesh can charge up the air around it to create an after-image, like a photograph slowly exposed. But to look for concrete meaning is defeating. Better simply to open your eyes and ears to the layers of rich sensation. Kevin Volans's score for two guitars and two cellos provides some major clues. At first harsh and ugly, imprisoning the instruments in clumped and dogged chords, it gradually loosens up to free their lyrical nature, with unearthly long cello notes singing their own "wild air" above the rest. As so often in Davies's work, the elements of design, lighting and music are as deeply enmeshed with each other as with the choreography. You would call it a Gesamkunstwerk if that word didn't suggest something so ponderous. Wild Air is all lightness and spirit-matter - something to be seen and believed in.

The Brazilian Deborah Colker comes at dance from the opposite end of the spectrum. A former professional volleyball player, she combines her country's passions for sport and dance in a show called Rota. Not one for shrouding her craft in mystery, Colker breezily describes the work as "motion in search of entertainment". And that's no more nor less than what you get in this hour-long display of stylish acrobatics, which cheekily blends ballet moves and street dance without doffing its cap to either.

At the start, the basis is vaguely classical, with Colker's 13 sunny dancers skipping along to Mozart - one step per beat, which gives the thing a boppy momentum as they execute pratfalls, resurrections, leapfrogs and grinning ballet leaps in the space of a few quavers. Head-scratching and nose-blowing is also part of the rhythmic flow, which lends the whole an air of everyday absurdity. Spirits run high.

The middle section goes all Mary Quant Space Age, with queues of women in silver bikinis doing a kind of hazy moon-walk to the strains of Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers. At one point three dancers, anchored at the feet by fellow performers, slowly list forward like ironing boards at 45 degrees to the floor - a stunt that makes your ribs ache just thinking about it. Dreamy formations of the slowest-of-slow tumbles and barrel- rolls confirm the company's fabulous muscular control.

The fireworks come in the final 10 minutes, when strongmen push forward the 22ft ferris-wheel structure on which Colker displays her dancers in a variety of effects: as the shifting beads of a kaleidscope, scurrying like gerbils on an exercise wheel, or serenely spreadeagled as Leonardo's anatomy man. Any psychedelic effect at this point was compounded by the music - a Strauss waltz and Tangerine Dream both playing at once. Whatever Colker's credentials as a choreographer, she certainly knows how to give an audience a good time.

Co: Gardner Arts Centre, Brighton ( 01273 685861) Tues- Thurs; then Edinburgh, Sheffield and Salisbury.