DANCE She's my living doll

Coppelia Birmingham Hippodrome Raid / Geisha The Place, London
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The Independent Culture
Peter Wright, who retires from his post as artistic director at Birmingham Royal Ballet this summer, has devoted most of his effort to serving up new productions of standard classics. His latest, a fresh staging of Coppelia, milks all the divine comedy of the fickle relationship between Swanilda and Franz. But it also alights on the darker aspects of the original scenario, to reveal Dr Coppelius as a sinister control freak.

Having created a life-size doll, he wheels her on to the balcony where she becomes a source of intrigue to both Swanilda and Franz - who is fool enough to believe that his flirtatious greetings are being returned, unaware that Dr Coppelius, crouching behind the doll, is manipulating her limbs. John Auld, as old Coppelius, uncovers a layer of subliminal abuse in the toymaker's attempts to keep Coppelia (now Swanilda in disguise) in check. But his desire to regulate her independence is also illustrative of what this ballet, for all its happy mischief, is really about: individual freedom within the larger context of community and tradition and the constant of time. Sandra Madgwick's forthright, impulsive Swanilda, blowing hot and cold in her affections for Franz, switches enterprisingly between animated woman and mechanical doll. And Sergiu Pobereznic's Franz is as sunny and bold as Delibes's wonderfully melodious score.

At The Place theatre, the Spring Loaded season of (mainly) British independent dance continues. And if you don't already know about Kabbadi, the Indian sport, Shobana Jeyasingh's Raid will introduce you to the spirit, if not the rules, of its manoeuvres. Glyn Perrin's and Ilaiyaraaja's sound- track explores the breath rhythms and chants and mocking songs employed by the single raider confronting a chain of anti-raiders. And Jeyasingh's choreography transforms the Kabbadi player's agility and daring into a splendidly athletic dance of touch and escape tactics for her six-woman ensemble.

Cantona-style foot to chest kicks also feature in Geisha, the new show from Kevin Finnan's and Louise Richards's Motionhouse dance company. But first you have to endure a tease that promises far more than it delivers. Three men and three women dabble with dress and gender codes, swapping trousers and shirts for spaghetti-strap minis and other outfits. What fun, you may be thinking. But no. This is role-playing tainted with guilt and crippled by narcissism and introspection, by people who think that exchanging personal descriptions over the telephone is the last word in sexual decadence. There is much angst-ridden slinging of bodies between a bed-sized couch and massive fridge. And the ensuing duets, despite their rough and tumble quality, seem inordinately deodorised. And when Richards rams her face into a bowl of something cold and creamy, you realise that even the Hagen-Dazs is reserved for onanistic purposes.

n `Coppelia', at Birmingham Hippodrome 8, 9, 11 Mar (0121- 622-7486); `Raid', at the Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury on 10, 11 Mar (01227 769075), then goes on tour. `Geisha', at the Junction, Cambridge, tonight (01223 410356)

Sophie Constanti