DANCE / Mad dogs and blind men go out on a limb

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The Independent Culture
A MAN stands naked, dressed only in a plastic bag, the type they put over the dry cleaning. He looks a right turkey, all trussed up and ready for roasting. Later in Mountains Made of Barking, by the 30-year-old Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus, a man lies on a bed of broomsticks turned up so that the bristles are the mattress and the handles the supporting stilts. He is the biggest dust bunny in the world.

The eccentric use of these ordinary objects makes them seem exotic. But what if you were the sightless Sad Gharbi, a member of Ultima Vez, Vandekeybus's company? How would these everyday things sound? Bizarre, to be sure. Vandekeybus amplifies the noise of a pot of tea being poured and it is like a river going into a bucket. In this way we enter Gharbi's universe, his sound-mind. Tea being stirred sounds like a glass wall crashing down, a couple kissing like hot thighs shifting on a plastic seat.

Gharbi sits alone in a white space, his thoughts drifting. Three men wriggle behind him and stand up, but it is too late for him to flee. Screeching chaos breaks out as dancers pounce, bounce, writhe, dodge, dart, scud, and steal away. They are like rabid hounds with muscle spasm as they hit the floor rolling and surge upwards into jagged jumping jacks. The style is tight, athletic, febrile and physical. The dancers are super-fit; they leap and run and slam. Knees take such a hammering that the women wear pads for protection.

Vandekeybus was a photographer before he became a choreographer. He is also an actor and film director who has created six dance pieces and directed a film and two videos since he began his dance career in 1987. Mountains Made of Barking, his sixth dance work, is a powerful collage of film, speech, music, sound and movement that grabs you by the wrist and won't let go. It is noisy and relentless as it takes you up and down its surreal mountains, past a tacky ballroom and men taking mud showers, past a film of people riding in a horse-cart in the Moroccan hills.

Vandekeybus has a head full of ideas and knows how to present them with maximum impact. On and on you go, to the sound of dogs barking, horses galloping, bass drums, laughter. By the end you're pretty barking yourself. A compelling and contrasting entertainment, but who knows what it all means.

Another great entertainer is Peter Wright, director of Birmingham Royal Ballet, who unerringly nets an excellent mix of ballets for triple bills. The recipe is usually something old, something new and something memorable to take home with you. Last week's triple comprised David Bintley's joyous and delicate Brahms Handel Variation (1990), a lovely opening ballet beautifully performed. Next was Agnes de Mille's dramatic Fall River Legend, revived earlier this year, and full of foreboding. It is about Lizzie Borden, who was acquitted of murdering her parents with an axe, although de Mille changed the ending because she could not bear to set Borden free. Marion Tait as Borden is superb, a soul tortured by paternal betrayal and abandonment, a mouse who roars in pain. And finally, Petipa's grand Paquita (1847), Russian ballet at its most majestic, set before gold brocade curtains with women in flattering gold tutus. Ravenna Tucker's luminosity glosses this imperial jewel.

London Contemporary Dance Theatre died last night after being strangled by the Arts Council. Casualties included thousands of LCDT fans around the country, and the many other potential enthusiasts who LCDT would have introduced to dance. The death followed a farewell concert at Sadler's Wells last week, in which the outstanding dancers showed for the last time how gloriously they adapt to any style, whether it be Amanda Miller's flighty, floaty and flirty My Father's Vertigo or Liat Dror and Nir Ben Gal's ironic, funny and slighty hammy Rikud, both of which were included in the final programme.

LCDT pioneered the modern dance movement in Britain, and was the most influential company since the formation of the Royal Ballet and Ballet Rambert. But it had struggled over the past five years to find a director, and the Arts Council refused to buy it more time to keep on looking.

With the death of LCDT, Britain loses its only company with such versatile dancers and a range of more than 100 dances in its repertory. Some of the dancers will be kept on to form the Richard Alston Dance Company, which will move into LCDT's home at The Place in October. This is the same Richard Alston who was booted out of Rambert for emptying theatres when he was artistic director. LCDT 1967-1994. You will be missed.

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