DANCE; The very best of European McDance

Turning World Place Theatre, London
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The Independent Culture
Over the past decade, no London dance venue has showcased the work of companies from mainland Europe and beyond as avidly as the Place Theatre. But the sameness of so much dance is now as much a fact of life as the depressing certainty of spotting a McDonald's in any - every - city across the globe. Given that the Place Theatre's Turning World season cannot avoid illustrating that reality, the best thing the director, John Ashford, can do is seek out good quality work from known as well as uncharted territories and, by bringing it to our own doorstep, provide a continuous document of dance development from an international perspective.

This year's festival features 10 companies selected from six countries. Good dancing has been the most apparent and gratifying aspect of the four shows (from Frankfurt, Madrid and The Hague) shown so far. In both S.O.A.P Dance Theatre's Object Constant and 10 x 10 Danza's Haz de Luz (Ray of Light) double bill, the women claimed centre stage - even when dealing with the sabotage of some rather ineffectual men. Rui Horta's choreography for S.O.A.P is almost hijacked by Anton Skrzypiciel, a gasbag control- freak who spends most of the time either bellowing commands from his watchtower or hassling and insulting his colleagues. In Mnica Runde's Anos Aquar- dando un Gesto (Years Awaiting a Gesture) and Pedro Bardayes' Amor a Pedazos (Love in Pieces), the works for 10 x 10 Danza, aggression is more reciprocal. Women and men struggle with and flee from each other but the latter register as harmless and redundant figures, overshadowed by a trio of women who, quite simply, are better dancers.

Neither S.O.A.P nor 10 x 10, however, exhibit the sleek technical brilliance of the 10 Dancers Ensemble, an offshoot of Jiri Kylian's Nederlands Dans Theater. Much of the repertoire consists of works by company members such as Paul Lightfoot, Jorma Elo and Johan Inger, and much of it reveals a house style based on that speedy articulacy that NDT dancers possess, and on a collection of recurring theatrical devices, quirks and tendencies. Of the six pieces presented at Sadler's Wells, only Forest Rain, created by Jorma Elo, transcends the amusing and immaculate skits that flank it. Using a collage of music by Hindemith, Chopin, Bach andAsafyev, Elo creates a secret garden of displaced characters - these include a couple of fretful Samurai warriors and a man who seems destined to keep tying himself in knots - whose separate stories gently coincide as a thunderstorm rumbles on. Like Lightfoot's Sh-Boom, which takes its title and final dizzying refrain from Stan Freberg's song Forest Rain, follows its own inner logic and leaves you none the wiser. But its sweet enchantment provides some relief from the world of sudden and inexplicable vocal exclamations, men in underwear, and women forever arching their spines in concave and convex attitudes which the Ensemble inhabits. None of these dancers could ever make you feel short-changed, but they - and we - need more varied material than this programme provides.

n Season continues with 'O Vertigo' at the QEH, 2-3 June (box- office 0171-928 8800); 10 Dancers Ensemble is at Sadlers Wells until Saturday (0171-713 6060)

Sophie Constanti