Dance: De Frutos forgets that less can be more

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The Independent Culture
HERE IS a man with a problem, and I do not mean the fact that he has to display a notice outside the theatre warning of "some scenes which some people may find offensive". Too true, since about half of the hour-long show consists of two men pretending to have sex, although I doubt that many patrons of Dance Umbrella or the South Bank Centre nowadays would be greatly shocked by homosexuality, or by imitation sex of any persuasion.

No. Javier De Frutos's real problem is that he is essentially a miniaturist, making his effects with small-scale detail, and as his work has become more popular, his audiences have outgrown the small studio theatres that made a natural setting for his early pieces. So now we find him in the large Queen Elizabeth Hall, and although his gestures have a clarity that probably carries all the way back, I wonder whether spectators at the rear can make out all the facial expressions on which he relies.

He also relies rather heavily in this piece on Tchaikovsky - mostly extracts from Swan Lake, snatched out of context and out of order, and jumbled up with bits of hula music and the sound of waves. De Frutos has a partner (or do I mean victim?) in this dance - Jamie Watton - neat and butch in a white suit, found lying languorously, only to wake and find his seducer is a muscular young man with shaven head, wearing a long skirt and no knickers.

De Frutos's first attempts to win over his prey are funny, rather sweet and sometimes touching, as he bounces joyfully to Tchaikovsky's jollier tunes, or shows a striking femininity in some of the "Black Swan" passages (many a ballerina might envy his allure). His approach is sometimes more blatant, however, repeatedly grabbing at Watton's crotch.

Eventually he hits his target, unzipping Watton's trousers and making as if to kiss what he finds inside, whereupon the hitherto reluctant partner turns enthusiastic and reciprocates. I must admit that I found that the protracted outcome grew tiresome, while those more drawn to it might have felt frustration at the dim lighting for this sequence.

True, De Frutos does find a sad and affecting finale of disillusion and separation, but is this enough to validate all that went before? Well, along the way we have been able to enjoy, besides De Frutos's main action, such entertaining incidentals as his flair for mockery, his flamboyantly balletic flourishes, and even a gift for Sufi-like whirling. And if boredom occasionally crept in, we could occupy the time wondering about the title of the piece: The Hypochondriac Bird. Presumably the bird in question is Tchaikovsky's, but surely De Frutos is not meaning to tell us that he thinks himself seriously sick? Never!

John Percival