DANCE / Hot metal: Judith Mackrell on the Cholmondeleys, leather-clad at the Place, London

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The Independent Culture
I was never as desperate, or as daft, as an acquaintance of mine who used to sport a huge Norton Commando crash helmet as he pooped around on his 50cc Honda. But I did entertain serious delusions of wildness as I revved my small MZ around the back streets or sat, rather sedately, in the side-car of my boyfriend's ancient Ariel. So I was more than ready to fall for whatever fantasy of hot metal, leather and speed the Cholmondeleys wanted to lay on me in their new all-woman biker show, Metalcholica.

In the opening few minutes I got pretty excited. The dancers' leathers, designed by Sandy Powell, were to kill for - trousers fitting like a sleek second skin, jackets swaggering with fringes and rhinestones, shiny chrome leg shields on knee-high boots. The lighting designer Anthony Bowne projected a skyscape of dreams, empty blue and a wisp of cloud suggesting beckoning horizons, while a couple of big, brawny scrambler bikes, centre stage, promised noisy escape. The glamour and the glory of the open road seemed tantalisingly within reach but, disappointingly, the dance didn't lay hands on them.

The choreographer Lea Anderson has taken several angles on what she's described as the dance equivalent of a road movie. She couples machinery and sex in tensely restrained dances where the performers jut their butts and swirl their hips in tight, mechanised formation. She shows glimpses of the oily frustrations of bike maintenance - Gaynor Coward spends half the dance tinkering with her recalcitrant machine, while occasionally one of the others reads out passages from the repair manual or sends postcards from abroad. Coward does a lovely line in tough endurance nearly dissolving in tears.

Most of all, Anderson tries to capture the exhilaration and aggression of biker culture as the dancers heft each other through some fast, hard lifts or, towards the end, perform a dance deconstruction of the struttings and posturings of heavy metal singers. Given the wit and glossiness of the design and the power of the subject, it wouldn't take a lot to make this piece fly. Yet surprisingly the dance itself feels uncertain, even weak.

First, Anderson is hampered by a very dull score. Drostan Madden has composed some marvellously surreal soundtracks for the Cholmondeleys, but his foray here into live rock has neither the energy nor the passion to rev up your pulse. It certainly doesn't inspire Anderson to much invention or engagement in her movement.

Her big raunchy numbers never get really wild; her more abstract sections throw up some lovely images which she then does little with. And there's only scant evidence of her usual talent for excavating intimacies and oddities of emotion through dance - the talent that's capable of giving us sharp, comic and tender views of people and their situations. So, while Metalcholica fails as a full-throttle biker fantasy, it also rarely shows us what it's like to be a crowd of real women on the road - rarely shows us, in fact, the bikers and rockers that the Cholmondeleys might, uniquely, have been.

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