Dance: HOLY BODY TATTOO Chisenhale Dance Space

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The Independent Culture
Gruellingly tautological essays in body-slamming are now standard fare and, all too often, their sole theatrical impact depends on - and is reduced to - how heavily and frequently the performers let themselves crash to the ground, and on how long they can continue doing so. The Holy Body Tattoo, a Vancouver-based trio specialising in this debilitating form of expression, is the latest boots-and-knee- pads import to reach our shores. Last March, the dancers - Noam Gagnon and Dana Gingras - and composer / musicianJean-Yves Theriault featured in Glasgow's New Moves festival, and they are now appearing (with an extra musician, Paul Gregory) as part of the Pride Arts Festival.

Gagnon and Gingras's experience of working together since 1987 has enabled them to develop a shared sense of co-ordination and timing which is put to impressive use in Poetry and Apocalypse. But, for all its visible force and aural insistence, this trenchant, eruptive work leads nowhere - which is why the performers' boldness and daring and the effect of their savage physicality seems so futile. The same rolling, heaving collisions of bodies - kept mainly horizontal and close to the floor - take place over and over again. And as these repeated patterns of movement come into focus, the work's mind-set locks into automatic pilot. As in much of Mark Murphy's work for his V-Tol dance company, the concentration required for low-level travel at dangerous speeds serves to reduce the power of any thematic or narrative content.The event becomes a daredevil game of duck and dodge, interspersed with brief rest periods during which the dancers, now prostrate with exhaustion, gasp for breath and slap down their palms as those begging for mercy.

After 20 minutes of watching Gagnon and Gingras whip themselves into a state of unproductive frenzy, you feel like stopping the show in order to release the performers from the prisons that their own bodies have become. And that their attempts to communicate with one another - let alone their audience - remain frustrated by the unrelenting apoplexy of their language, makes you want to sit Gagnon and Gingras down and ask them to talk about what's troubling them - to a counsellor, perhaps.

Quiet, reflective moments rarely interrupt Poetry and Apocalypse's pulp and grind routines but, when they do, speak so much more eloquently about the fragility and transience of human kind. Written into the title - if not the full reality - of this work is the idea that the end of the world is nigh. But Poetry and Apocalypse isn't simply a portrait of the horror and vicious assault of modern life; when Gagnon and Gingras, as lovers entwined, flinch and jerk in response to the manipulative touch or stroke of a hand, you see the death of modern manners and the irrevocable collapse of trust.

n Tonight at Chisenhale Dance Space, London E3 (Box-office 0181-981 6617)