New work by Matthew Hawkins

Dance: BALLET RAMBERT; Edinburgh Festival Theatre
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The Independent Culture
The title of Matthew Hawkins's new work for Rambert Dance Company - Dancing Attendance on the Cultural Chasm - is as long-winded and unfathomable as much of the politely bizarre choreographic doodling that it heralds. Hawkins's universe has always been a place of ambiguity and androgeny, but the strange mysteries of that universe are ill-served by a label weighed down by its own heavy and rather forced postmodern irony.

Split in two, the title does provide some clues to the most enduring and notable aspects of Hawkins's work: the "dancing attendance" - the gestural pomp and elaboration which has been central to his choreographic forays with their ornate designs since the mid-Eighties; and the alternative "cultural chasm" which Hawkins inhabits, despite the formal classicism of a movement style rooted in ballet.

Hawkins's brand of contemporary, academic dancing is, at its best, married to his talent for po-faced, understated comedy, and it has always seemed in perfect accordance with the shabby grandeur of the Hackney Empire - the theatre which, over the years, has championed many of his exploits. But while the boldness that informs his choreography is apparent in this new work, much of its delicacy is lost on the huge stage of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre (where it premiered on Wednesday evening). Frequently, the piece seemed to meander away into the black, starry distance, further removed by the descending "lace curtain" gauze behind which the masked figures busy themselves.

There's some fine, expansive dancing driven whole-heartedly by the music - Rameau's orchestral suite Les Indes Galantes. But those moments are all too rare.

Still, Hawkins's aliens-on-the-landscape scenario is far preferable to the cheerful, lobotomised community featured in Christopher Bruce's Meeting Point, first performed at the United We Dance festival in San Francisco last May - the brief being to create a work which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. Meeting Point begins with a take on the wariness and suspicion with which individuals (representing the different nation states?) approach each other around the negotiating table. Bruce makes this opening sequence into a ballet danced only by hands - clenched fists, an open palm, a dismissive flicking of fingers, a slowly unfolding V for Victory - captured in the light. Although immediately reminiscent of the introduction to Kurt Jooss's The Green Table - this century's most famous pacifist ballet - Bruce's conceit has its own modern Esperanto wit, and much of what follows also needs no translation: we see bright, happy, partying people obligingly accepting the hand of friendship after some unconvincing backing-off.

If this is a vision of global peace, I'd rather stick with the all-art- means-suffering brigade - or, at least, with the obsessive poise of Hawkins's choreography instead of the smiling pose - Meeting Point's finale is, literally, a group snapshot - of Bruce's.

n The Rambert Dance Company is at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre until 1 July (box office: 0131-529 6000)