Dance: Tears of Laughter The Playhouse, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture
Jiri Kylian's Trompe l'oeil must be the first ballet in which a dancer receives a call on his mobile phone (hidden in the back of his waistband) while partnering in a pas de deux. His muttered answer, explaining why it is not a convenient moment, becomes part of the action. Later the phone's antenna forms a weapon to stab him with, and the action also includes a woman who sneezes her way through a solo rendering interpretation of Swan Lake.

Set to a music collage ranging from Monteverdi to Zap Mama, it is the first part of the programme brought to Edinburgh by Nederlands Dans Theater III. This is a group of dancers, no longer performing full-time, assembled at intervals for productions invented to use their experience, gifts and personalities. At present they are two men and two women aged from 46 to 61: all strong performers, lithe and compelling.

With many companies they could still dance roles in the regular repertoire; the segregation is necessary only because the main NDT programmes tend to a swift athletic style. Kylian, as sole choreographer of this show, avoids giving them ordinary dance steps; movement is often concentrated on hands, shoulders or heads, and he makes a joke of using chairs as part of the setting.

In No Sleep Till Dawn of Day, Martine van Hamel and Sabine Kupferberg slowly move, usually as if unaware of each other, above, below, before or behind a row of 22 chairs, to a faintly heard lullaby from the Solomon Islands - an oddly compelling ritual. This is the only piece all evening seen previously in Britain, although Gary Chryst's solo Double You was created three years ago. Made largely of small, wary paces to a Bach Allemande, much of it is done with his back to the audience, but an element of facial play is built into the action too.

The other works were premiered only last autumn and the whole programme assembled under the title Tears of Laughter. Kylian's real purpose seems to lie in showing how recurrent elements of design and gesture can take contrasted meanings. Gerard Lemaitre's solo If Only, danced to part of Rachmaninov's cello sonata, offered some ambiguity in its mixture of comic and sincere apprehensiveness.

Otherwise, there was laughter, especially in Trompe l'oeil, and nearly tears in the group work, Compass, that ended the evening. In this, accompanied by Stockhausen's scary Musik im Bauch, the dancers are trapped by the circle prescribed by a heavy ball revolving on a chain; gradually they develop a frantic desperation and finally find courage to face it.

A touching end to an uneven but rewardingly intimate show that deserved a less cavernous auditorium than the Playhouse.

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