Dance: The one man who really gets the point

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The Independent Culture
MARK BALDWIN DANCE COMPANY QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL

LONDON

WHEN BART De Block dances on point it isn't a camp Trocadero Ballet spoof, although he did once belong in that company. A high-calibre classical dancer - he was also a principal in Berlin's Deutsche Staatsoper ballet - he uses point technique with seriousness, beauty and smooth virtuosity. No wonder Mark Baldwin chose to spotlight him in his company's latest touring programme, which also showcases piano scores played on stage by Martin Jones.

In M-Piece, Block runs through the full lexicon of traditional ballet - sauts de basque, brises volees, chaine turns. He performs for eight minutes, to commissioned music by Roxanna Panufnik, a strenous length for a classical solo. Point work takes years of practice and Block has none of the vigorous brittleness that betrays men having a go.

In short, he dances with the artistry of a ballerina, but without effeminacy. When, at one moment, he enters tentatively and then lets rip in a series of leaps and arabesques, I saw it as an image for the arrival of a future generation of male dancers on point. And why not? If women can add that dimension to their dancing, why can't men? (Watching, I got carried away and started mentally designing male point shoes: chunkier, of course, perhaps with virile leather straps instead of ribbons... )

Baldwin takes on a difficult choreographic task, to mesh Block's ultra- classicism with the contemporary dance of Shelley Baker, Gabrielle McNaughton and Vivien Wood, But in Song of the Nightingale, to a piano reduction of Stravinsky's music, he manages deftly by exploiting the existing story. Cast as the nightingale, Block uses point dance to become a metaphor of winged febrility, which contrasts with the earthy women. Costumed in metallic grey, he also manifests the bird's mechanical simulacrum, the Emperor - or Empress in this version - listening in vain for a heart.

Baldwin has the not-so-common ability to suggest themes and character through dance steps, supplemented only rarely with touches of mime. In Pulcinella Disperato (using a score by Hans Werner Henze) the dance becomes a neatly assembled medium for in-jokes. Comic threads of conflict, revenge and commedia dell'arte slapstick criss-cross among the cast. Baldwin (making a stage comeback) incarnates the title, present for a nanosecond at the start, then disappearing. When he returns, he gets a hard time from the women, pushed, kicked and pulled; but to exact revenge, he turns on Block, dumping him unceremoniously on the floor.

Deadpan comedy is a Baldwin tendency; and where previously he had just let it creep in, here it inhabits its own wonderful territory. Yet, Baldwin is above all a serious choreographer, the choreographer's choreographer.

His programme is for those who like to contemplate dancerly, musical and subtle craftsmanship. It is marred only slightly by the gloomy opener of Darkness Visible, a female trio weighted down by Thomas Ades's slow, deep chords. The inspiration was a Chagall acrobat, but it looks more like The Silent Three in earnest, early-modern dance communion.

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