TELEVISION / Those feet were made for talking: Thomas Sutcliffe on a weekend of fancy footwork, fancy footwear and the age difference

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The Independent Culture
One of the more irritating cultural fantasies about dance is that it is a powerful medium of communication, that it can say more than words can. Those who genuinely believe this should try summoning the AA with an agonised grand jete next time they end up on the hard shoulder.

Perhaps it's understandable that the beautifully articulated should want to lay claim to the virtues of articulacy. The pleasures of dance have somehow to be presented as pleasures of intellect before they can be defended or described. This isn't to argue that dance can't contain meaning, just that the meanings it offers are far less precise (and therefore more flexible for each member of the audience) than those contained in language. This is a freedom rather than a disability; it is dance's inarticulacy which gives it emotional power.

All of which presents problems if you are setting out to make an eight-part series about 'dance in world culture', one in which a huge range of talking heads will attempt to find acceptable subtitles for emotion in movement. By aiming for the emotions the first episode of Dancing (Sunday), BBC 2's latest cultural part-work, only compounded the difficulty; this introductory film aimed to give us some idea of 'what it feels like to dance'. For those with two left feet this was unwittingly conveyed by the early shot of a crowd of children dancing an ensemble number at the National Dance Institute of America. At the back, a single head bobbed out of time, a single arm rose as a wheatfield of arms fell. Whoever he was, he was unerring in error - he didn't even hit the beat by accident. This was more instructive about the pleasures of dance - its contradictory combination of intense physical discipline and physical liberty - than any amount of metaphysical vapouring.

To be fair, the American dancer Jacques d'Amboise kept his language simple, even infantile, making a nice point about the way in which a mother's heart conveys a beat and upbeat to an unborn baby 'swishing around in Mommy's tummy'. When he described his own performances, particularly those when he had transcended the ordinary routines, he was still in the nursery; 'I can still suck the thumb of the joys of those moments.' The words tried to lift the heart but just couldn't get a grip on a muscle which responds in a mysteriously illogical fashion to the movement of other muscles. Where 'The Power of Dance' matched its title was in details that reminded you that dance is a triumph of the body over the body's restrictions; a perfect corona of perspiration spinning from the brow of a pirouetting dancer; Irek Mukhamedov adjusting his weight slightly as he held Viviana Durante aloft.

Dancing of a rather less elevated nature was available the previous night on The Sounds of the Seventies (BBC 1), though you might argue that dancing the cancan in 20-kilogram platform boots is an artistic achievement of sorts. This raid on the BBC's archives sounded like a good idea until you actually turned on, at which point you realised it sounded very bad indeed. The motive can only have been 'Lest we forget' - so many young people nowadays just don't care about the sacrifices made by the Punk generation, and this was a timely reminder of why the war had to be fought.

But nostalgia had an arm-lock on the weekend schedules; Channel 4 was re- broadcasting an early edition of Ready, Steady, Go and over on ITV Michael Aspel was wallowing in the Sixties in the company of a gathering of erstwhile swingers. The Trouble with the Sixties (Saturday) was obviously intended to be an anecdotal fireworks show, but Aspel had considerable difficulty lighting the blue touch-paper. At one point George Melly revealed that he and Jonathan Miller had sent a telegram of congratulations to Kenneth Tynan for saying 'fuck' on television. Aspel leant forward with a little smile of anticipation: 'What did you say in the telegram?' 'Oh . . . ,' said Melly. 'congratulations . . . ' Similarly, a little later we were shown murky archive footage of Mary Whitehouse railing against 'the dirtiest programme I have seen for some time'. 'Mary, what were you referring to?' asked Aspel, ever the professional feed. 'I haven't the faintest idea,' replied Mary. Robert Robinson made an honourable attempt to inject some interest, but most witnesses were called at such a pace that they had little time to reveal anything but their name and address and say that, yes, they had been there in the decade in question.

Marriage, declared a character in The Clothes in the Wardrobe (BBC 2, Sunday) consists of 'a few quiet moments, if you're lucky, and an occasional day which doesn't incite you to murder'. This was Lili (Jeanne Moreau), sweeping into the grey world of post-war Croydon, with a bracing dose of cynicism and exotic flair. The clever asperities of Alice Thomas Ellis's novel were nicely preserved by Waris Hussein's direction and Martin Sherman's screenplay, though nice is too genteel an adjective for a work so occupied with the merits of unrespectable behaviour. Lili arrives just in time, as it turns out, to save Margaret from an unsuitable marriage to Syl, wonderfully played by David Threlfall as a pub bore with a laugh like an airlock in the plumbing.

'I'm marrying a man that nobody likes,' moans Margaret weakly after overhearing a giggled joke at his expense, 'I thought it was just me.' The ceremony is finally averted after Lili contrives to lure him into vigorous fornication in the summer house, in front of the appalled gaze of the wedding party. It is virtually the only time that Margaret cracks a smile in the entire film.

This was no mean company, with Joan Plowright and Julie Walters on great form and even bit-parts going to actors as strong as Roger Lloyd Pack and Gwyneth Strong. But Jeanne Moreau stole the show. She had the best lines, it's true, but her wayward stresses gave them a wonderful added glamour and she was so captivating in the role that she made the seduction of a man some 30 years her junior seem not just credible but a little enviable, too.

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