DANCE Les Ballets C de la B QEH, London

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The Independent Culture
Oh dear. It was when the man with the skimpy orange T-shirt and the Tourette's syndrome began hurling abuse at the audience that a chill wave of fear began to wash over me: this was going to be rubbish. Belgian rubbish.

An apparently deaf and dumb woman, with rheumatic legs and an unfeasibly large number of pink hairslides, mouths and signs abuse. A Scotsman in a dirty tweed jacket stands on an imaginary touchline, hortatory and hectoring by turns. Oh dear. But, suddenly, a mousey librarian in a sensible skirt clutches her handbag, opens her mouth very, very slightly and out pours a crystalline soprano carrying a stream of Purcell into the dirty blue air. More and more characters come forward to populate Alain Platel's urban zoo. Each is superficially repellent - the kind of thing you'd cross the street to avoid - yet each is drawn with remarkable sympathy and clarity.

William Phlips's set for La Tristeza Complice ("a shared sorrow") is the platform of a tube station under construction. Perched on a platform up in the scaffolding are 10 accordionists wheezily deconstructing Henry Purcell in a bizarre but hugely effective orchestration by Dick van der Harst. Chief among the crazies below is a young pretty skinhead sucking a lollipop dressed only in an old pair of khaki Y-Fronts (worn inside out). He leaps into the air repeatedly but he doesn't so much land as fall to earth, bellyflopping heavily on the deck. He crashes with such force it is a surprise that his skinny young frame isn't black and blue. His chosen movement motif appears to be collapse punctuated by short trips around the floor on a single roller-skate.

Meanwhile, upstage, Miss Hairslides begins to pull a chain of glowing fairy lights from her handbag and arranges them fetchingly about her head. A balding man in lipstick and a black bra attempts to undress a woman with his teeth. The Scotsman, after a short balletic interlude, appears to wet his trousers and the fairy-lit female dabs tenderly at his crotch with her handkerchief before trying to screen his embarrassment with her shirt.

The dance steps are mostly of a familiar punishing nature. Platel's real gift is in helping his artists to conjure a dozen fully realised individuals and relationships without a word of real dialogue being exchanged. The grotty townscape lives and breathes with characters of such intensity and diversity that they are as distinct and enduring in their grungey, tragic way as Columbine and Pierrot.

My favourite remains Euridike De Beul's librarian. With her widow's peak and pretty, sorrowful face she delivered Purcell's laments in a curiously close-lipped style but with great charm and sweetness as she roller-skated uncertainly across the floor like a plump little bird learning to fly. Louise Levene