DANCE / Rain man: Judith Mackrell reviews an LCDT programme at Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture
Swimming in space, sloshing crazily though rain - the dancers in Darshan Singh Bhuller's new piece for London Contemporary Dance Theatre get to play with two of our most primitive fantasies. Certainly it is the novelty of Fall Like Rain's staging that makes it an obvious opener for the second programme.

The piece is about the Asian god Yadahpati who brings rain and watches over human destiny, and as dramatic dance its details are a little blurred. But Bhuller as Yadahpati translates himself into a charismatically sinister figure. Gliding above the dancers, he nose-dives to suck like a leech from a woman's shoulders or hovers on a man's back like a bird of prey. When the rain comes smashing onto the stage he and the dancers plunge into a new element, skimming along tiny waves, rolling in hedonistic abandon. On a fogbound London night the sight was shockingly liberating.

The heat and sensuality implicit in Bhuller's piece are more piercingly focused in The Perilous Night, a solo choreographed for Bhuller by Richard Alston. Set to John Cage's score for prepared piano, it evokes a man confronting private demons through the course of a long, hot night. It sounds grim but it is a mesmerising celebration of Bhuller's dance personality - his soft, rich muscle tone mixed with an Asian exoticism and a street fighting grit. Alston's movement harries Bhuller into edgy shapes and jittering rhythms, it cradles him in gentle curves and sends him wheeling out into space. Terse, lucid and packed with detail, the piece is an intense dramatic monologue in dance.

The programme's final piece, Waiting, is a work that Alston could not and would not choreograph in a million years - and Christopher Bruce is one of the few who could bring it off. Set to a score by Errollyn Wallen and written to celebrate Nelson Mandela's release from prison, it opens in the middle of a South African township. The dancers beat angrily against corrugated iron, tyres are rolled threateningly around the stage. At the beginning you are wary of all the possible pitfalls - the ironies of a white Englishman taking on the material, the danger that pure dance can't live up to hard and complex truth.

Initially some of the choreography feels overly predictable but it builds to a genuinely tense and dangerous pitch. When the singer Kwame Kwei-Armah walks out to sing the song of Mandela's freedom the sense of release is huge. Despite the dancers' celebrations they are sucked back into sullen confrontation and the work closes with Mandela having to push his way through a thicket of brandished sticks. Political reality is not a natural subject for dance - but by a passionate declaration of human interest Bruce makes it so.

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