DANCE / Lucky charms: Judith Mackrell on Laurie Booth's Wonderlawn

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The Independent Culture
A cello, a base, a viola and an electric guitar pursue their own serenely separate destinies in the score for Laurie Booth's new Wonderlawn. In some passages the composer Gavin Bryars lets them merge in close harmonic accord but more often he directs them along their own distinct paths.

The four dancers are also like separate instruments - Ellen van Schuylenburch sharp-lined and fastidious; Laurie Booth dark and resonant; John Kilroy luxuriantly stretched; James de Maria rich-toned and relaxed. Booth's choreography sometimes sculpts them into close- knit groups or has them tumbling and flying over each other's bodies - but it also creates spaces in which they can elaborate their own very individual ways of moving.

The world in which they dance is powerfully dramatised by the lighting, costumes and set. The first section is cast as a kind of futurist Arcadia where the four musicians - playing at the back of the stage - are gowned in white robes and the dancers are in long supple tunics. During the opening minutes the dancers quietly recline on slabs of Astroturf, sunning themselves in Michal Hulls' golden light, like priests or gods taking time out.

As they start to move, you can see Booth cherishing their differences. His own deep lunges and wide, swerving kicks act as a constant bass line to Van Schuylenburch's nervily angled arms or Kilroy's elegantly torqued balances. At times the dancers seem to move on and off the stage, in and out of stillness by their own choice. But the patterns of Booth's choreography show through whenever he pulls them back into groups - single movements passing from one body to another, unison passages drawing them all into carefully ordered communion.

In the second section Duncan MacAskill's set turns spacious calm into darkness and threat. A giant, sprawling, metal web dominates the stage, wired up for sound so that, as the dancers clamber over it, you hear vast clanging, shuddering sounds. The impact of this aural sculpture is extraordinary, dwarfing the dancers and creating a sense of claustrophobic menace as they dance in its shadow.

The relief is enormous when the whole stage lightens, the web ascends and Bryars' music recalls the work's opening serenity. The dancers move increasingly in pairs, in improvised duets and, as always with Booth, this element of risk is crucial to the work's life. Inevitably there are moments when the dancers fail to read each other's movements quickly enough - one may try to launch into a flying balance just as another reaches out to pin him in a quiet hold.

Yet far more memorable are those moments when you share the pure thrill of bodies riotously discovering a move together, of an accidental hold that turns into a frankly tender embrace. And these highs are an entirely appropriate way to end this very grown-up and pleasurable work that seems to celebrate dance both as freedom and discipline, as certainty and danger, as lightness and dark.

Continues at the Royal Court, London SW1 (071-730 1745) until tomorrow

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