Pedigree Cholmondeleys

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The Independent Culture
Remember The Cholmondeleys? They were part of the Haagen-Dazs syndrome, that marketing wheeze of the late Eighties which held that to pick a brand name with crazy spelling meant people only to had to puzzle over it once and they'd remember it for life. It seems it worked.

It's a good few years since Lea Anderson's whacky all-girl company had a contemporary-dance hit, but suddenly there's a new generation that's in the know. An old work by The Cholmondeleys (that's Chumlies, OK?) has suddenly appeared on the A-level syllabus. You didn't know you could take an A-level in dance? Get with it. It's been an academic option for the past 10 years. But Lea Anderson's Flesh and Blood is the first post- modern piece to be set for study. Students see it on video, hear the choreographer talk about the work, dissect its components and composition, and even write essays about it. Now the Cholmondeleys have taken to the road with a revival of the 1989 production. Up and down the country 17- year-olds are ecstatic.

To start with there's the music, performed by a live rock band called (oh joy) The Victims of Death, for whom the description "heavy metal" scarcely does justice to the 500 tons of industrial steel they seem to employ in the opening 10 minutes. The score calms down later on, and meanders down some quite melodious byways of folk fiddle and saxophone that are almost sweet. On stage, all is Rocky Horror gothickery: a fug of dry ice, women in Morticia Addams make-up, and long, swirling dresses of an extraordinary metallic fabric that changes from pewter to bronze to phosphorous green under Simon Corder's extraordinary lighting. At one point, knee-level blades of pure white light seem to slice right through the dancers' bodies.

As for the choreography, Flesh and Blood contains no more than two or three ideas, which it teases out for nearly an hour. But they are marvellously strong ideas: images from religious art - kneeling, swooning, levitating - and more obliquely, women swivelling like demented salamanders belly- down on the floor, women prowling the stage like chatelaines who suspect insurrection in the west wing, women performing what could be ritual self-examination for vampire bites. Brought off with the edgy speed and precision of an animated cartoon, the effect of these curious routines is mesmeric. I don't see quite where the "flesh and blood" come in, but I do see why the work should be studied. For clarity and economy, let alone verve, it gets a starred grade A.

Rising choreographer Paul Douglas is bursting with choreographic ideas which are a good deal more complex and weighty, and often more beautiful. But the net result of his double bill, performed by his company, Small Bones, as part of the Spring Loaded season at The Place, was one of visual overload. There is much that is good, but too much.

Douglas's new work, Mirror, invites an artist (print-maker Oona Grimes) and a composer (the Belgian Walter Hus) to contribute discrete elements which provide a context for the dance but don't impinge. So the performing space is hung about with giant cut-outs of Grimes's manga-like cartoons - including one of a little girl pulling the arms off a toy rabbit - but mercifully, the dance has nothing to do with this. It does, however, follow the mood of Hus's marvellously cogent string quartet. But frankly, this music would be better off without the distraction of leaping and swooping and shaking of fists.

In his choreography for Mirror, Douglas resists anything so obvious as a double image. So what we get is layer upon layer of well-crafted, distinctive but meaningless movement. A "fascination for the body's articular potential" is not enough to keep audiences engaged.

For the second piece, John Adams's superb orchestral Shaker Loops, inspired by the tremulous American sect, ushers in a warmth and humour that makes this policy easier to bear. I loved the dancers' friendly interlockings using elbows and hips and the crooks of necks. But still the stage was overfull. Shaker philosophy has the answer of course. Beauty lies in sparsity. Less is always more.

The Cholmondeleys: Merlin Theatre, Frome (01373 453900) tonight; Theatre Royal Wakefield (01924 366556) Tues; Phoenix Arts Leicester (0116 255 5627) Fri & Sat; and touring.