Dance: The ballet of the superpowers

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The Independent Culture
A Midsummer Night's Dream

Playhouse

Cool Heat Urban Beat

Palladium

In Pacific Northwest Ballet's version of George Balanchine's not all the tricks and deceptions are in the plot. Paced with so much technical brilliance, such hauteur and easy control, it is tempting to overemphasise how much Balanchine owed to his imperial Russian heritage, and overlook how much he took from the demotic of his American home. Patricia Barker, although a regal Titania, is pining for some adventure long before all that business with the magic flower, something Balanchine hinted at by giving her a series of knee-cocked little dips and poses that might have come straight out of Stan Sennett's Bathing Beauties. And as a pair of idealised lovers in the (deceptively) simple second act divertissement, Linnette Hitchin and Olivier Wevers spend a long time just walking side by side, swinging each other's arms in circles. If it weren't for the music of Mendelssohn, the gemlike set and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz and the genius of Balanchine, they could be a boy and girl strolling down Main Street in a midwestern town in some forgotten Fifties musical.

Which may be a subliminal part of what Balanchine had in mind. He races through the entire story in the first act, which is littered with dysfunctional pas de deux - Titania trying to seduce a Bottom who keeps bolting for his hay; Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius taking turns to wrestle or shrug each other away. The second act is pure dance - a marriage celebration - and the divertissement is a vision of idealised, innocent love. As it ends, the moon rises and the stars form into a nimbus around Hitchen, who simply glows.

Martin Pakledinaz provides his own share of tricks like this to add to Balanchine's. His designs are bright, imaginative evocations of a fairy kingdom, with overhanging bowers, rhinestoned spiderwebs, roses hanging down as big as ballgowns and a tree frog that could scare Godzilla. The army of children who play fairies and butterflies are given green and ginger fright wigs with small silver antennae. Puck himself, as danced by Seth Belliston, is a highly strung, hyperactive satyr, complete with horns and orange hair: a kind of unholy cross between Chris Evans and the goat god Pan. And even that can't undermine the charm of the production.

Cool Heat Urban Beat, at the Edinburgh Palladium, is unmistakably of the real world, but with the volume turned up and a brick resting on the speed-search button. The show is a collaboration between Rennie Harris's Hip Hop troupe, PureMovement and Herbin van Cayseele's jazz dance trio, Urban Tap. The two groups of dancers, together with a percussionist and a DJ, generate a hair-raising chemistry as they continually switch from duelling to duetting and back again.

Unaccompanied, Cayseele, Rod Ferrone and Max Pollak of Urban Tap exchange a patter of syncopation that ranges in speed and attack all the way from thunderclaps to the skittering of insects. When they are joined on stage by Harris and the others, they seem to be providing a kind of sonic strobe-effect, so that the Hip Hoppers can leave moments of vivid anatomical graffiti hanging in the air. In a particularly memorable exchange between Harris and Cayseele, the one man's staccato taps seem to be telegraphing waves through the other's body. Even when the Hip Hop moves are familiar, they are performed with an energy and sense of freedom that is breathtaking - it's not often that you see someone slide almost the entire length of a stage on his head, using his own braided hair as a coaster.

Cool Heat Urban Beat: Edinburgh Palladium (0131 226 2151), to 5 Sept; Peacock Theatre, WC2 (0171 314 8800), 8-27 Sept. Jenny Gilbert is away.

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