David Dorfman Dance Company Woking Dance Umbrella 97; Yolande Snaith The Place, London

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Woking may not be that far from central London but it's over 3,000 miles from Manhattan: a long way to drag the David Dorfman Dance Company. Yet the Surrey town went to the trouble of importing this disappointing troupe as part of its Dance Umbrella festival. Such a pronounced lapse in quality control does Woking few favours in the longer term - any members of the audience seeing contemporary dance for the first time might mistakenly imagine that the form is composed of recycled Eighties movement cliches trotted out to indifferent music.

The second piece on offer, Job (as in get a proper), was composed of mildly amusing cross-talk between Dorfman and his deliciously named sidekick Dan Froot in which the pair reminisce unreliably about how they met. The urge to slope off during the interval was almost overwhelming. Instead I stayed for Gone Right Back which, like the first piece, boasted live accompaniment. The ambient noise ("music" would be pitching it a bit strong) was partly written by Amy Denio. Doggedly ungroomed and resolutely secretive about her musical gifts, she stumped about the stage playing either an accordion or electric guitar. It can't be easy to play a musical instrument lying flat on your back: it certainly wasn't easy to listen to. Matters were further enlivened by the dancers' whingeing: Tom Thayer repeatedly requesting to be moved while Lisa Race repeatedly begged someone to put a hand on her forehead. What fun it all sounds.

Yolande Snaith, whose British tour concluded at The Place this week, also uses the human voice (spoken and sung) to enlarge upon the themes explored in her work. But her restrained wit succeeds where Dorfman's self-indulgent ramblings fail.

Snaith's Gorgeous Creatures takes the life and loves of Elizabeth I as a launching point to explore obsessive behaviour. The choreographer herself plays the Queen and comes on-stage, 10-feet tall, in a raspberry-coloured farthingale. Beneath its festoons she finds four nearly naked courtiers whose waving limbs snake back and forth like a vast sea anemone. It's a lovely image, and is saved from being merely decorative by Snaith's response as she peers excitedly beneath her skirts, hinting at the Virgin Queen's relish for sexual dominance. The mad history book that unfolds evokes the playful menace of a court at which summary execution was a commonplace.

Much of the show's success is thanks to Snaith's collaborators. The set is sumptuously but sparely decorated by Barnaby Stone's ravishing multi- purpose furniture. Kei Ito and Suzanne Slack's ingenious costumes can transform the Queen from a giantess to a dwarf on wheels. Graeme Miller's score is a mix of plangent Twin Peaks-y chords and samplings of Melanie Pappenheim's tremulous soprano. There was a time when such stylish collaborations would have overbalanced Snaith's work but magical moments within the choreography of Gorgeous Creatures ensure this doesn't happen. To see the petticoated Queen perched precariously on the back of her throne while her arms and legs float weightlessly around her convinces you that this is a dancemaker, not a mere set-dresser, at work and that Snaith is gradually finding the confidence to leave some of the props in the cupboard.

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