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DANCE / Up, up and away

THE choreographer Siobhan Davies is going one way - and it's up. She is a recent winner of an Olivier Award for outstanding achievement in dance, and her latest piece, Wanting to Tell Stories, shows there is plenty more where that came from.

Davies left London Contemporary Dance Theatre in 1987, where she had been a dancer and choreographer for 20 years, to form the much-admired Siobhan Davies Dance Company in 1988. Her dancers, three women and three men, are among the most skilful in the country. Since she began working with them, she has achieved such fluency in her own language that she has freed her ambition to travel in a new direction: integrating design - that is, the set - into the dance.

Wanting to Tell Stories is a deliberately abstract work in collaboration with the composer Kevin Volans and the designers David Buckland and Antony McDonald, who created a pair of installations that are one-third ship's mast and two-thirds stiff wire screen. These are not merely backdrops, but indulge in a bit of movement themselves. They divide the stage diagonally, then separate to make a corridor for dancers, and at one point form a moving cage chasing a scurrying dancer into the wings. The concept works brilliantly.

The dancers, in aquamarine clothing, flow freely in an unremitting variety of moves, all different but all bearing a striking resemblance, like members of a large family. Arms are loose, shoulders ripple, knees bend at angles, legs extend, feet flex, torsos curve. One man holds another's head for support as he rolls over a third dancer's back. A man rushes towards a woman, hooking his neck under her chin. If his timing were a second out, she would have a crushed jaw.

The dancers move alone, in pairs or in close-knit threes. The pace is gentle, but grows turbulent and relaxes again according to the demands of Volans' pounding score. The easy fluidity of the composition is a tribute to the dancers' deftness in interpreting Davies' quick and sophisticated lexicon. The piece, which had its premiere at the Brighton Festival, is a testament to Davies' strength and maturity as a choreographer and can only enhance her reputation as one of Britain's foremost artists.

I saw the other piece on the programme, White Bird Featherless, last autumn and didn't much care for it. Perhaps it's an acquired taste. Wide shoulders and straight arms, hops and one-legged bows vividly evoke carefree flight and the langour of a hot day. During Jeremy James's solo I had the unusual sensation of wanting to get up and try the moves myself. He made them look easy, but easy they are not.

The Royal Ballet's Don Quixote has gelled as a production, but is still peculiarly unsatisfying. If it were a play, you would blame the writing. There are simply not enough substantial sequences, and the leading characters, Basilio and Kitri, are curiously blurred. Is Basilio supposed to be a lusty young blade or, between you and me, a bit of a prat? Is Kitri daddy's spoilt princess or a delightful tease? It is never clear. These aspects are not so much different sides of giant personalities but pygmies in search of a more profound identity.

Fiona Chadwick danced with Zoltan Solymosi in place of Darcey Bussell last Saturday, which would explain why they came across as a couple with neither chemistry nor charisma. They barely acknowledged each other all night, whereas Tetsuya Kumakawa was so taken with Deborah Bull on Tuesday that he gave her an unscripted kiss on the cheek. This was the real couple - loving, squabbling, playing, both as electrifying as usual, in spite of the poor material.

Siobhan Davies, Harlow Playhouse, 0279 431945, Tues and Wed. 'Don Quixote', ROH, 071-240 1066, tomorrow and Sat.