DANCE / Moving against a trend for sex

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The Independent Culture
IN THE past few months the following have appeared in contemporary dance: a motorbike roaring across the stage, physical abuse in a hotel room, men picking up men in public toilets, and a naked couple copulating on a coffin. No kidding. Nineties audiences want to be entertained. And they want plenty of sex. But there are two British choreographers who eschew this trend. Siobhan Davies and Jonathan Burrows are not concerned with issues, themes, stories or plots; they are much more interested in pure dance and the bouquets of movement they can produce from an arrangement of arms and legs. You go to their shows to appreciate movement rather than be titillated by naked people gallivanting in a graveyard.

Davies is rapidly becoming the grande dame of British contemporary dance, an artist who after 22 years in the business is at the height of her powers. Her latest piece, The Glass Blew In, takes place in a large square bordered by a small perspex fence. The atmosphere is haunting, with changing light, liquid movement and the sound of a solo clarinet. The dancers need each other. Two clash back-to- back. A woman leans back over a man and is walked on by a third like a human gangplank. They huddle together in a line. Jeremy James's solo marks a turning point. Foot flexed, he lifts a leg and dips his body, head first, and pops over the little fence to make way for the others. When they return, they spread themselves out as the music expands into an ensemble for nine clarinets. The dancers are suffused with the pleasure of movement and convey this warmth. In fact, The Glass Blew In is the most sensuous of Davies's recent pieces. And all her hallmarks are included - mystery, completeness, integration, subtlety - this time with a great big heart. Is there no end to her inventiveness?

In contrast to Davies, Jonathan Burrows is just starting out. He left the Royal Ballet two years ago, taking with him two colleagues, Lynne Bristow and Deborah Jones, to form his own group. Our, his latest piece, is the second for this company, and concentrates on pure dance. There are no props and no tricks, just the light, the minimalist sound (by Matteo Fargion) and the movement. The piece is classy, mature and brave: he has no qualms about leaving half the team on the bench for most of the match, realising he is best with one, two or three dancers. The movement is weighted in the hips, from where the legs helix and kick as in martial arts, and the arms paddle and windmill. Dancers jerk like boneless puppets on a string. More grotesquely, one dancer leads another, hunchbacked, by a fleshy cheek, and a woman breaks a man's arm over her thigh like a plank. Confident pauses focus rather than interrupt the movement.

Where Davies is gentle, Burrows is brutal. The piece is highly watchable, and in my mind's eye I can still see Lynne Bristow delivering an almighty twisted kick. Burrows's dancers, like Davies's, operate from a strong technical base. By the way, I'd kill for one of those elegant Issey Miyake grey-ribbed- silk, three-piece trouser suits.

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