DANCE / It's a man's man's man's man's world

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THE NEW piece by DV8 Physical Theatre, MSM (or men seeking men), is about 'cottaging' - men who have sex in public toilets. After an hour I'd found out everything I didn't want to know in the first place - and there were 25 minutes to go. A worthy subject, perhaps, but one with limited appeal. Still, MSM's form triumphs over its disturbing content.

Lloyd Newson, the director, uses words where he would previously have used movement to express the experiences of a range of characters, played by seven men. There is no linear narrative, as in drama, nor a set-up leading to a showdown. Instead, the piece unfolds like a rose in the light, and draws on contemporary dance structure. The ending is dancerly: a performer slumps against a wall and gazes up at others suspended on swings in virtual darkness, ghosts of the past.

So why do men pick up strangers in public loos? Some go because they're desperate to meet someone. Some do it for escapism, to 'nip out of their life and nip back again'. A 15- year-old does it because 'it's somewhere your mother would never go'. Most do it because they don't have to disclose anything about themselves: their only fear is intimacy.

There is the fat old queen who pretends not to notice rejection, the toilet attendant who gets more satisfaction on the job than job satisfaction, the diffident legal clerk, the married Scot, the gay policeman with inside information on the most active 'cottages'. They climb walls, open cubicle doors to reveal surprises, pop their heads and bare torsos out of flaps in the wall. These devices echo Newson's last piece, Strange Fish, and require nimble performers, which most of the cast are. Only the dancers untrained in acting - who have difficulty modulating and projecting their voices - mar an inventive, thoughtful work.

Also structurally dazzling is Second Stride's Escape at Sea. The journey of a group of Russian emigres to America opens out like MSM, with rich layers that give it the density of opera. There are layers of sound - music, chanting, song and Russian and French dialogue, the foreign words serving as sound effects. And layers of movement - with dancers lingering at the back, threading through to the front, lying on tables.

At 54 Lynn Seymour, the former Royal Ballet star, proves herself a fine ensemble performer, playing a febrile Chekhovian actress, making and breaking

relationships with an exceptionally strong cast. Indeed, the whole piece is exceptional: allusive, sumptuous, sophisticated.

Jayne Regan, the lead in Northern Ballet's Cinderella, is so mousey that the prince has to persuade her to come out of hiding to try on the slipper. She is also capable of lyrical dance in the attractive, simple sequences which offset the ungainly ones in this uneven production. It should nevertheless be seen for its charm, bimbette ugly sisters and innovative box-set.

'MSM': Royal Court Theatre (071-730 1745), to Sat. 'Cinderella': Marlowe, Canterbury (0227 767246), Tues to Sat.

(Photograph omitted)