DANCE / Living colour: Judith Mackrell on Compagnia Vicente Saez

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The Independent Culture
By the late 1980s, European dance seemed to be turning into a gloomy caricature of itself. Its dancers all performed on black stages, in black designer outfits and clumpy black boots, while their pale flesh displayed rashes of dark bruising from the fast and dangerous movement that was so in vogue.

The rhythms of the choreography also veered towards the monochrome. The audience's pulse rarely danced to the lilt and patter of detailed steps - it hammered to the thudding, crashing and smashing of performers doing battle with angst. This year, though, among the 17 works showing in London's 'Turning World' season, there's confirmation that Europe's choreographers are lightening up. Angels Margarit from Spain dances in a red pinafore, surrounded by green apples and a bale of yellow hay. Philippe Saire's dancers from Switzerland are dressed in vivid tatters. And the shock of Vicente Saez's new work Iris is that it's set on an entirely white stage.

He and his three dancers also wear an assortment of stingingly bright costumes - and this range of colours is reflected in the palette of the choreography. Certainly there are some standard Eurocrash lifts and rolls but they are worked into a textured, rhythmically varied eclectic vocabulary. In the work's opening solo, Saez sits with his legs splayed, his arms snapping through a sequence of brittle-jointed shapes. Suddenly he scoops himself upright and lurches into a casual tap and slide that's straight after Gene Kelly. Later, we even see a couple waltz.

The underlying story seems to be of four people trying to sort out workable relationships. As one pair dance a tough but matey duet, others try to muscle in on their fun by mimicking their dance. Later one of the women tries to unlock the two men from a quiet clasp, and having extricated one of them, leads him off by the nose.

There are many droll, unexpected moments in the piece, beautifully crafted and beautifully danced - but disappointingly they become less and less engaging. Iris is built out of a number of sharply distinct choreographic blocks, all set to very contrasting music. No sooner are you drawn into one passage than you're pushed on to something very different, and the resulting stop-go rhythm not only exhausts your eye and ear but also your imagination. I began watching the piece with intrigued pleasure. By the time it was over I had already, mentally, left.