DANCE / Rock chicks on the road to nowhere

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The Independent Culture
A WOMAN revs a motorbike and roars across the stage, sending exhaust plumes and a frisson of danger across the footlights at The Place. She's wearing lack leather pants and a black leather jacket with silver studs and tassels. Blonde, wild and free, she looks more like an angel from hell than a Hell's Angel. The scene is from Metalcholica, the latest from the Cholmondeleys, the all-

female group directed by Lea Anderson, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The company was formed by a group of friends who graduated from the Laban Centre in 1984. Three of the founder- members are still there, but three new dancers have been brought in for this show. If you didn't know this, it would be difficult to pinpoint them, so well do they fit in.

Early on, four women face the front in their spray-on leather, caps and sunglasses. They could be chewing gum and showing a V-sign to the world, but they're not. All they're doing is swaying their hips - very slowly. They are cool and sexy, but their body language warns interested parties to stay away. This is a no-go area and these slinky danger- babes are in charge.

Anderson uses rounded, everyday movements to explore the road - Jack Kerouac and Peter Fonda's kind of road. But she tips the moves over so that they are all slightly off-balance. Women curl in mock pain, or collapse backwards on the floor. They walk on all fours with bottoms up or wrap into foetal positions. Women slump back, arms loose, trusting someone will catch them. Some of the movements are almost in slow-motion, controlled by the precise and energised dancers.

Moving the two motorbikes and three sound speakers on and off is a palaver. This jars at first, but gradually the messing about with props gives the piece a chunky, clunky feel. The score - live, driving rock - blasts the brain, but just as the thrash and crash becomes monotonous, taped music provides a soothing antidote. And just as all the tight black leather begins to pall, dancers come on in sassy silver versions of the same. The costumes, designed by Sandy Powell, are superb. The women-in-silver now become rock stars, on stage in the heat and frenzy of a packed Wembley concert.

The piece is inventive in its symbolic language - the off- kilter look and the use of caressing hands - but the meaning is not always clear. Clarity comes and goes at whim. Metalcholica packs a powerful punch, but never capitalises on its instrinsic excitement and daring to become more than the sum of its parts. In the end, the loud and furious road it travels is rather flat.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet opened its Covent Garden season last week with Sylvia, David Bintley's new full-length ballet, adapted from the 1879 French version to the music of Leo Delibes, and reworked by Frederick Ashton in 1952. Since its premiere last October, Sylvia has been substantially tidied so that it is now cleaner, clearer and more classical. Its disturbing eccentricities have vanished so that the characters, drawn from mythology, are human and less like weirdos out of Stephen King. Bintley has kept his tongue firmly in cheek so that the ballet, although no masterpiece, is fun and enjoyable.

The masterpiece belongs to Agnes de Mille, the American choreographer whose 1948 Fall River Legend received its London premiere on Thursday, as part of a triple bill that included Balanchine's feathery classic, Serenade and MacMillan's colourful Elite Syncopations. De Mille's ballet is based on the case of Lizzie Borden, a tortured New England frump who in 1892 murdered her father and loathed stepmother with an axe. De Mille could not come to terms with Borden's acquittal, so altered the drama to punish Borden for her crime.

Set under a dark, menacing sky, De Mille sets out the narrative with Hitchcockian visual efficiency. You don't see the grisly murder: Borden (Marion Tait) holds the axe as her frightened parents huddle in the corner. Then the frontdrop comes down and Tait appears in a blood-stained white petticoat. The frontdrop goes up to show rows of curious people staring at the house of horror. Tait tears out of the house and lets off a silent but cathartic Edvard Munch scream. This is dramatic dance at its best.

Tait makes you feel that you are living through her ordeal. Dowdy in her green dress and flat feet, she is persecuted by family tensions, subdued, wistful. She brings many psychological shadings, resisting the temptation to rattle and bang. With this role following her Juliet, Tait has blossomed into a fine dramatic dancer.

'Metalcholica': The Place, WC1, 071-387 0031, to Sat; 'Sylvia': ROH, WC2, 071-240 1066, Mon; triple bill, Wed-Fri.

(Photograph omitted)