Dance: Drawing a long breath of fresh air

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The Independent Culture
SIOBHAN DAVIES COMPANY

OXFORD PLAYHOUSE

THINGS BEING relative, Siobhan Davies's decision to create a full- evening work sounded momentous, where with other, brasher choreographers it would have seemed merely interesting. Had this quiet specialist of the 30-minute form, so subtle, so considered, so perfectionist in the way she sifts her material, suddenly and incredible gone wild? Of course not, even if that adjective formed half of the piece's title.

In fact, if my memory is correct, Wild Air is not the first long piece of her career, although it is the first for her decade-old company. Why did she want to make it? To meet the fresh challenge of sustaining her ideas and manipulating her momentum over a longer time-span. But as always her choreography meshes with the other stage components to produce a delicately calibrated, self-sufficient world, even if the interval arrives at an arbitrary moment (Henry Montes is just starting his solo) and by the second half I longed for some editing.

Solos and ensembles form layers that often overlap, often fragment inside David Buckland's futuristic setting of sliding corrugated panels. Peter Mumford's lighting makes moody shifts from electric blue or turquoise to the grey of a soft dusk.

Davies keeps to all her old collaborators and for the music she has listed Kevin Volans. He has produced for her one of his most beautiful dance scores, written for two cellos and two guitars, and played live. A construct of contrasted segments, it alternates heavy chords with syncopated staccatos and ravishing adagios where melodies emerge from slow-drawn, high-tension cello notes.

Perhaps the "air" of the title is a musical melody. Perhaps also, given that Volans reportedly drew inspiration from his South African homeland, he and Davies had in mind wild expanses where the noise of grass and creatures travel on the wind and feral, elusive animals cohabit. Who knows? But it seemed to me that the dancers had individual characteristics, like different species of animal. Paul Old is a confident explorer of the air around him, he moves with sinuous emphasis. Matthew Morris is all abrupt twists and changes of direction, a foil for Sarah Warsop's calm, reflective outlines. Four women dip and pace in unison as if they are a flock of flamingos.

Sometimes the dancers freeze, their stillness an equivalent of the music's silent spaces. And now they are frozen in my memory, the eight of them, all distinctive personalities, all consummately skilled.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of the first section. `Wild Air' tours for the next four weeks and then resumes in the Autumn, when Davies will work with the Royal Ballet to create a piece for their opening programme in December at the refurbished Royal Opera House

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