Prague without the spring

DANCE Chamber Ballet Prague / Sadler's Wells V-TOL / The Place Theatre, London
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The Independent Culture
Pavel Smok's 18-strong Chamber Ballet Prague ensemble is dedicated to one-act, intimate works set to music by (mainly) Czech and Slovak composers. It functions principally as a vehicle for Smok's choreography - bland, folksy numbers of glutinous neo-classicism.

In adding fellow-Czech Jiri Kylian's Evening Songs to the first of the company's two programmes at Sadler's Wells, Smok not only anaesthetises us with an overdose of insipid balletic modern dance, but makes you wonder whether their shared choreographic responses - either inane playfulness or furrowed angst (but not much in between) - are the key to some essential, yet ultimately inconclusive aspect of national character.

Predictably, Janacek's Intimate Letters is used for a dance-drama of the composer's life, while in Sinfonietta, Smok conveys the exultation of Janacek's score via arduous but ineffectually accented teamwork; and, in Trio in G Minor, there is more insuperable short-circuiting around mainly tragic events in the composer's (on this occasion, Smetana's) life.

Just as Smok's trio - decidedly 19th century and with inhibitions to match - can't seem to achieve a constructive balance between its bursts of wearisome cultishness and diligent torpor, V-TOL's threesome - Emma Cater, Christine Devaney and James Hewison - suffer significant communication problems in Mark Murphy's latest work, In the Privacy of My Own. V-TOL derives its label from the vertical take-off and landing action of the Harrier jump-jet - and that's a fair description of Murphy's aerial choreographical style, although his landings tend to be more of the dive and crash than hover and settle variety. I've given up believing that Murphy is interested in, or capable of, depicting anything other than paranoiac and abusive relationships between men and women, but he's an assured operator. At its best, Murphy's language has a spontaneous, rough-hewn quality, the performers caught in a fluent uprush of aerodynamically inspired moves. But much of In the Privacy of My Own feels too neatly contrived, and, with its screeching techno-score and compulsively antagonistic encounters, too aurally and aesthetically painful to bear.

n Chamber Ballet Prague, Sadler's Wells (0171-713 6000); V-TOL, The Place Theatre (0171-387 0031). To Saturday

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