DANCE: You've been tangoed

Laurie Booth & Company Woking
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So many of Laurie Booth's contemporaries - the generation of independent dance artists that emerged in the late Seventies and early Eighties - are now either long-forgotten or stuck in a time-warp of their own making. A decade ago, it seemed that Booth, too, might be heading in that direction. As a soloist he was - and is - a remarkable virtuoso, but when he first turned his choreographic hand to group works, his idiosyncratic vocabulary proved a non-transferable gift.

Recent productions, however, have shown Booth not only replacing imitators with dancers who are occasional equals (first Russell Maliphant, now James De Maria), but finding ways to exploit the resulting stylistic diversity. That no one in the current excellent line-up (Nicola Ellis, Mei-Kuang Li, Colin Poole, Ellen van Schuylenburch and De Maria) even attempts to move like Booth shows just how much choreographer and performers have learnt from one another.

Booth once said that "all dancers learn to fly but that doesn't mean they have to take the same flightpath". Sadly, this respect for individuality is barely discernible in his new show, Tango Variations. Here is a miscalculated alliance between the fastidious yet sultry flourishes of tango and Booth's more freeform dance structures.

In appropriating the tango, Booth lumbers himself with the kind of upright postures that seem rigid rather than proud. They paralyse his spontaneity. Ironically, having stood up after years spent on all fours, Laurie Booth seems inhibited rather than enhanced in his mobility. His barefoot agility is further constrained by the shoes and high-waisted trousers of Jeanne Spaziani's costumes.

Booth is macho enough to inject his tango encounters - with both male and female partners - with provocation and desire. But here he looks more like a French onion seller than a turn-of-the-century streetwise Argentinian brothel-creeper. The work is filled with the tango's decisive clinches, knife-flick gestures and sensuous, wraparound footwork. But Booth and his company keep a distance from any real or dangerous passion and, in this series of frigid preludes, suppress much of their individuality.

The dancers become trapped under a lustreless veneer of tango mannerisms. The accompaniment, from Cuarteto Cedron, tends to have more spirit, but the theatrical impact of the musicians' presence is diluted by prolonged episodes of inactivity when they bemusedly follow the parts of the score belonging to the soundscapist Hans Peter Kuhn. The roaring aircraft of Kuhn's introduction may well have been a witty homage to the great tango singer Carlos Gardel, who died in a plane crash, 60 years ago. But generally his mumblings and scratchings are better suited to the few welcome moments of daring indecision in the second half.

Duncan MacAskill's design - a large, basketry horn hung overhead, and a frame upon which the dancers self-consciously drape themselves - adds little, but the backdrop of geometrically divided colour, created by Michael Hulls's sumptuous lighting, produces more subtle changes of mood than Booth's choreography.

By the end, you are still unsure whether Booth has fallen victim to a newly discovered, over-reverential passion for the tango, or whether, choreographically, he's simply lost his way. That said, with or without tango, Booth is still a riveting performer.

n At the Peacock Arts Centre, Woking on 31 March (01483- 761144), then tours nationally