DANCE / More tales of the city

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The Independent Culture
THE MUSIC gallops along, swells to a peak and plunges, gallops again, then glides smoothly before dying softly away. Fearful Symmetries, by the minimalist American composer John Adams, pulsates with repeated motifs. It is heady music for dance and no fewer than 10 choreographers have used it. The latest is Ashley Page, a member of the Royal Ballet, who has created an awesomely energetic dance to this extraordinary piece of new music.

Gauzy canvases of colour like Rothko paintings establish the mood of 20th-century America. Dancers bunch together like cat men and women in the dark alleys between skyscrapers. They are foraging for something: the air is tight with tension. Claws are not exactly out, but they could be. To relieve this pent-up pressure, dancers burst from the group and launch themselves into space. They whistle through the air, propelled across the stage by high winds. As they come upright, arms are steel wings, knees point outwards and meet at the toes to form diamond shapes. When they land, tensions have been defused; all the cattiness beneath the skin gives way to a co-operative spirit. They cluster again, more amiable now, and a woman whips a long leg over a man's outstretched arm, which becomes a launch-pad for another trip into space.

But there is a stranger among them. Irek Mukhamedov enters the egalitarian cityscape, knowing instinctively that he must become one of the mass or be for ever ostracised. His presence is commanding, but he daren't throw his weight around. Calmly and courteously, he skims round in a turning circle,

picking up speed with wide jumps, arms slicing through air. He is a panther on padded feet: sleek, silent, weightless.

Page has created an overwhelmingly forceful dance reminiscent of William Forsythe's In the middle somewhat elevated, but without the brutal indifference. At least the dancers here acknowledge one another. The music's rich texture provides depth and variety so that Page has none of Forsythe's hard edges but

all of his precision. Dancers are at their most devastatingly athletic, especially Deborah Bull and Ann De Vos. Mukhamedov is mesmeric in his first attempt at the slick, straight-arm punchiness of Page's style. But what did he think of designer Antony McDonald's mini-skirts for the men? A bit like his Spartacus days at the Bolshoi?

Fearful Symmetries is on a triple bill comprising Kenneth MacMillan's Danses concertantes (1955), with its Art Deco, Norma Desmond glamour, and his Winter Dreams (1991), a passionate drama of unfilled hope based on Chekhov's Three Sisters. Don't miss it.

Elsewhere, London City Ballet has also had a big hit this season with Coppelia, to a luscious score by Leo Delibes. This production of the sunny Romantic ballet is a delight from start to finish: clean, uncluttered and danced with fresh buoyancy. How much longer is the Arts Council going to persist in its stubborn refusal to fund this deserving company that survives only on its ingenuity?

Michael Clark was at the cavernous Brixton Academy last week with the two pieces that make up O, one of which is his dance to Stravinsky's Apollo. The show is even better than when I saw it in Brighton. Clark has ditched his punky parodies for something altogether more serious - he has returned to his classical roots to create an imaginative new language that is unmatched for originality. The dance to Stravinsky's third movement is different from how I remember it. Huge panels of reflecting glass create a stage within a stage; the light suggests a dappled, silvery underwater world. Phrases seem sharper here as Clark defines his new dance language. Slow and serene, dancers hinge forwards from the hips, spines arch backwards, heads fix to the front as feet slide along the floor. The energy is so contained that Clark does not allow himself much height in his cool star jumps. O marks a significant turning point for this superbly gifted dancer and choreographer; Apollo is a masterpiece of invention.

Royal Ballet triple bill: Royal Opera House, 071-240 1066, Tues to Thurs. Michael Clark: Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 031-529 6000, 29 July.

(Photograph omitted)