DANCE / Heaven on Earth

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WHAT LOOKS like a British Airways hangar and sounds like a recital at St Paul's Cathedral? Answer: heaven. That's how the Mark Morris Dance Group made the Meadowbank Sports Centre feel when it performed there after a fire at the Playhouse, proving that if you've got it, you can flaunt it anywhere.

The sensation of the festival, the New York group and its flamboyant choreographer brought two programmes. I chose to see the second, New Works, because it was, well, new. Morris listens to more music than you can pack into a dozen branches of HMV and has no qualms about seizing on absolutely anything he can make dance to: Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Indian music, the Violent Femmes, Schoenberg . . . His musicality strikes you at once, and he has a gift for inventing visual images that match the melodic structure with equal force: steps belong like a libretto to a score. For the steps he plunders all forms - classical Indian dance, Balkan folk dance, Martha Graham, you name it - to meld a style so distinctive it has become his own.

The style is bulky, communing with the floor more than the sky, with stylised moves (a raised arm with an index finger curling the air) and complex formations (half-circles within half-circles). His 15 dancers, all excellent, are so undancerly they look as if they'd never say no to a McDonald's.

The first piece of heaven was Jesu, meine Freude, set to the short Bach choral work and sung by the glorious Schola Cantorum, one of the powerful musical forces that, Morris says, draw him to Edinburgh. The dance is simple, unpretentious, personal. The form appears to have the randomness of Merce Cunningham, but is in fact mathematically precise, closely shadowing the crescendo and diminuendo of the voices. Although the dancers are steeped in Morris's style - none has been with the group for less than five years, some have been with him for 15 - there is still room for individuality: the boss seems to relish the nuances each dancer brings to the movement.

Synchronicity, however, is an imperative in Home, which alternates sombre dance to the melancholic folk of Michelle Shocked, with boisterous Appalachian clog dances to Rob Wasserman's resonant, heart-stirring fiddle. Clogging is tap by another name, and the six dancers, including Morris in his only appearance, pull it off with the elan of Fred Astaire, later adding a dash of music-hall (bended knees, in-out, in- out) and even a quick Mary Poppins heel-kick.

These sequences are infectious fun and an antidote to Michelle Shocked's laments about a stillborn baby and a man who has 'gone like a chicken missing from my pen'. Here, the dance subtly expresses the baleful words, while occasional ballet lifts boost the mood. Morris was anxious to prevent the musicians from improvising, in case dancers found themselves with nothing to do. But, if you didn't know this, you would never have guessed that the music is strictly laid down, so rich and spontaneous is the delivery.

Grand Duo, to Lou Harrison's piece for violin and piano, is Morris at his best: with complicated formations and an exquisite solo by Guillermo Resto - with his Linford Christie chest and Bob Marley dreadlocks, arms flowing like a stream.

Mark Morris is the cleverest, most inventive choreographer working in dance today. He has never toured the UK, but would like to, so someone give him some money . . . please.

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