DANCE / Not with a whimper, but a bang

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The Independent Culture
SO IT'S farewell to London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Founded in 1967, the pioneering modern dance company will never be seen in London again; and after a national tour next June, will be seen nowhere at all. It lost its way about five years ago, but after two weeks at Sadler's Wells it can still hold its head high. The programme is strong and varied, the dancers at their sleekest.

LCDT goes out with a bang; the cracker being Christopher Bruce's Rooster. Seeing it again, I am convinced it is a popular classic. Set to early Rolling Stones, it has moved from literal interpretation of the songs to social comment through stylish dance. Try-it-on mods and rockers find women asserting their equality. 'Don't play with me 'cos you play with fire,' he warns, but she couldn't give a damn.

Bruce moves from the social to the political with Waiting, inspired by Nelson Mandela's release in 1990. Set in a bleak township, it captures the tensions between ANC youths, called 'comrades', and collaborators with apartheid, one of whom is 'necklaced', representing that particularly gruesome period. Errollyn Wallen's drumming on corrugated iron (performed by Simon Limbrick) and Kwame Kwei-Armah's singing of the ANC anthem add to the passion of an imaginative piece that takes dance into a seldom explored arena.

Another fine piece is Aletta Collins's Shoes, to Steve Martland's jazzy, upbeat score. A chorus line is smug and censorious. They've got the shoes, the big yellow, blue, red and orange ones. They're the haves; the unshod the have-nots. A couple leave their shoes outside with their inhibitions. Later, all take off their shoes, feeling the air between their toes in an exuberant dance that is quirky, spongey and symbolic.

Darshan Singh Bhuller is the dancer Richard Alston chooses for his solo, The Perilous Night, to John Cage, and you can see why. Bhuller has an enigmatic quality that captures Alston's contradictions - tough but vulnerable, rangy but delicate. As he spins and reels through space, he manages to convey the headiness of performing beautiful dance.

Bhuller is less successful as a choreographer. In his own piece, Fall Like Rain, he flies above the others, circling and landing. Though skilfully done - he is suspended from the waist by two strings - he looks more the Buddha of Trapezia than part of the piece. The dancers are galvanised for a time into raindrops falling on a window pane. But then real water drenches the poor dancers, soaking their enthusiasm. Nothing for Gene Kelly there. Fall Like Rain drowns in its own gimmicks.

There are no gimmicks in Sand Skin, a mystical piece by Angelin Preljocaj. Dancers enter a primordial world to form two V-shapes on the floor, joined at the apex. Each slowly rises, signifying the moment our ancestors became bipedal. They devise symbols to embellish life, dancing with containment by arching and curving in capsules of space. The electronic score is a collective heartbeat as the group thrums through the grasslands. The piece loses its historical thread in the middle, but reasserts itself when dancers become giraffes, arms stretched in front, hands dipped, a leg kicking back. While never creating a complete world, Sand Skin is atmospheric, intriguing and, as with all the pieces, a tribute to the dancers' extraordinary versatility.

The award for the most complex piece goes to Amanda Miller, the Frankfurt-based American, for The Previous Evening. The composer, Fred Frith, creates a sound soup of rice falling into a metal bowl, pebbles crunching underfoot, 'prepared' instruments, clarinets on tape and two live. Into this mix, Miller throws her dancers, who are moulded by others like clay; they are paint blots on canvas, Rorschach on paper. Movement and sound mesh in a subterranean world of randomness - expressionist, layered, unconscious, free. A highly idiosyncratic, adult work.

For importing modern dance to this country and developing it, and for introducing many people to dance, LCDT we salute you.

(Photograph omitted)

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