DANCE / Terribly strange adventures: Stephanie Jordan reviews Matthew Bourne's Adventures in Motion Pictures at the Lyric Hammersmith

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The Independent Culture
IT SEEMS strangely appropriate for Adventures in Motion Pictures to occupy the Lyric Hammersmith for their current London season, what with that theatre's considerable history of plays and revues. This history, indeed, supplies much of the source material for AMP: different genres of cabaret and theatre - Noel Coward, for instance - as well as the archetypal human material of social satire. Matthew Bourne's choreography comments slyly on this bygone world, using it to create his own, distinct language. Every move becomes part of a taut choreographic plan and he cleverly blurs the borderline between period- class affectation - fey gesturing and slouching - and naughty references to films, ballets or current events, all outside the premise of the piece.

It is disappointing that Bourne's new piece, The Percys of Fitzrovia, doesn't have the heat of invention that we've grown to expect from his choreography. The audience is still chatting when a recording of Florence Foster Jenkins sets the frantic tone of this 'arty farce'. Then the Fitzrovians introduce themselves - Sculptress, Socialite, Painter, Poet, Novelist and Exquisite (a man in pink female attire). The Fitzrovians number six and are accompanied only by a chair apiece and a screen painted with Modigliani-style figures. Yet they give the effect of a much larger crowd of characters competing, cavorting and clambering about each other.

The Sculptress romanticises to Liszt, so much so that she develops ambitions to fly. The others heave out of their chairs in sympathy with her abortive take-off, repeatedly, their unison rise becoming stylised into daft choreographic detail. But look carefully, and you'll notice that their grimaces remain individual. Is this a play or is this a dance? You can enjoy the way, too, that Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto, in Percy Grainger's arrangement, has stirred images of writer's block - the Poet slashes his arms in despair - and bouts of furious piano-playing by the cast on laps and neighbours' backs. A reading dance for all six litterateurs has them tightly lined up on their chairs, integrating their books into arm phrases, swaying to overlook another's text.

Yet, all too often, Bourne's ideas are lightly treated and unspecific, or just few and far between, and the characters are insufficiently drawn. Fitzrovia reveals that AMP's strength lies more in Bourne's choreography than in the ability of its performers to inject any singular acting personality of their own.

The second half of the programme, The Infernal Galop shows the company in better form. This very English view of things Parisian displays superb timing and an outrageously inappropriate image is always hovering to blast away any complacent fun. The piece has been glamorised by fresh designs (David Manners makes the pissoir at the back of the stage light up glitzily).

I haven't yet seen Bourne's highly successful Nutcracker which shares billing with Opera North, but it could be a sign that he is recognising the need to broaden his artistic range. Otherwise, the stylishness about style that made this company rapidly famous may lose any important force.

Adventures in Motion Pictures continue to 16 Jan at the Lyric Theatre, London W6 (081-741 2311).

(Photograph omitted)