DANCE: Negative crash flow: Judith Mackrell on O Vertigo at the Place, plus Don Quixote
Thursday 29 April 1993
In their new piece, La Chambre Blanche (the first in The Place's new Turning World season), there is an entire tiled room in which O Vertigo can do themselves damage.
It resembles a grim, 19th-century institution (barred grilles, skylights) and in the programme the dancers are referred to as asylum inmates. Even without these clues, however, it's clear that the performers are not always meant to be conventionally sane. They utter obsessive monologues or burst into manic laughter, they creep along walls or launch into violently self-abusive dance.
All of these are standard cliches of the madhouse scenario - but they are dispiritingly mixed with even more standard cliches of the Eurocrash style. Duets where one dancer flings herself against another's torso or is slammed full-length on to the floor, psychotically repetitive dance sequences, bursts of frenzied running: not only have we seen all of these a hundred times before, but the choreographer, Gillette Lourin, commits the final commonplace of putting her dancers in the standard Eurocrash uniform of designer white lingerie and black evening clothes.
What's most irksome is the fact that there are gleams of real interest in the piece. The set is chillingly well-designed, the 10 dancers give unflaggingly concentrated performances and passages of closely observed body language in the choreography suggest a talent that might blossom if it could only root itself in more richly individual ground.
Over at Covent Garden, the Royal Ballet might almost have acquired their new production of Don Quixote solely to display the pirouettes of Jose Manuel Carreno. In the circus atmosphere of Act 3 he gets at least three opportunities to dazzle with a stunt he's made peculiarly his own. After whipping himself into a demonically fast series of turns he starts to decelerate as if he had all the time in the world. In one variation, he allows the working foot to dribble gracefully down from knee to ankle as he eddies to a leisurely standstill; in another the whole leg snaps out to the side in a lethal quivering point.
It's all so wickedly controlled that you have to laugh at the effrontery of it - yet throughout Carreno maintains his usual imperturbably amiable expression. He's equally good- tempered in the rest of the ballet, and if this makes his acting a shade monochrome it also makes him a natural for the happy, improvident Basilio. On Monday night he partnered Leanne Benjamin, who supplied just as much fun and a lot more detail in her acting. She seemed genuinely to fizz with philandering high spirits rather than to be demonstrating an acquired choreographic style.
This made her a good sparring partner for Carreno. While the two appeared credibly in love there was also some needling daredevilry at work between them. It was worth the odd miscalculation of timing to see dancers so willingly taking liberties with the possible and safe.
The Turning World festival runs till 15 May at The Place Theatre, London WC1 (071-387 0031); 'Don Quixote', Royal Opera House (071-240 1066).
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