THE 1990s IN REVIEW: DANCE - Men have never worn prettier frocks

Male swans, acid trips and the A13. Jenny Gilbert says that imagination is the only limit
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The Independent Culture
The most discernible shift of the past decade has been in subject matter. While much new dance continues to conform to traditional notions of gender, the range of what men and women may do or represent on stage has expanded more than the Martha Graham pioneers could have dreamt. In the early 1990s the American Stephen Petronio made a high-profile work in which men in pink corsets pulled ribbons from each other's bottoms. Kenneth MacMillan made a startling piece for the Royal Ballet about gang rape on a Docklands building site. David Bintley explored the gruesome fate of Edward II.

On a gentler note, Mark Morris produced a Nutcracker in which the climactic "Dance of the Snowflakes" was a mix of men and women, some dancing on pointe, some not, according to choice, not gender. And famously, 100 years after its first appearance, Matthew Bourne dismantled the ultimate feminine ballet icon - the Odette/ Odile role in Swan Lake - and recreated it as a man.

Bourne's creations for his company, Adventures in Motion Pictures, point up another of the decade's trends: a renewed faith in the full-evening story-ballet. That could mean brand-new adaptations (David Bintley's Far from the Madding Crowd, Christopher Gable's Dracula) or old favourites in new guises. Bourne set the ball rolling with his 1992 Nutcracker - a lurid comic-strip rewrite that cut the saccharin of the plot by peopling the Land of Sweets with Doris Day marshmallows and mean gobstoppers on motorbikes. But for me the work that clinched it for the prodigiously talented Bourne was his lesser-known take on La Sylphide, in which the kilt-wearing hero pursues the sylph after an acid trip in a Glasgow tenement. That early show had all the qualities of subversion, wit and stirring fantasy that made Bourne's 1995 "male" Swan Lake such a sustained hit. No ballet had run so long in the West End since Diaghilev's Sleeping Beauty in the 1920s.

Dance creativity has thrived at both ends of the populist scale. On the one hand a bunch of Irish hard-shoe champions can transform a folk art into a global franchise. On the other, London's Dance Umbrella festival can sell 28,000 seats in a season showcasing the rarefied likes of La Ribot (rude, nude performance art) and Streb ("crashdance" at its bruising physical limit). The mushrooming of good venues has helped - notably the new Sadler's Wells. But at the same time, performance has been sprouting in places you would not expect: the British Library, the Natural History Museum, even an unopened stretch of the A13. If it's a space, today's choreographers can use it. Imagination is the sole limitation.

NINETIES THE DANCE DECADE

1991 CANDOCO

Britain's first wheelchair-bound dance company.

1991 ARRIVAL OF LIFEFORMS Software for choreographers. Merce Cunningham in the US and Wayne MacGregor in Britain are prominent users.

1994 MICHAEL CLARK'S `O'

Clark hits his neo-classical peak, in a punk version of Balanchine's 1928 classic Apollo.

1994 STILL/HERE

A work by Bill T Jones about Aids, performed by the terminally ill. The New Yorker called it "victim art".

1995 SWAN LAKE

Matthew Bourne's male Swan Lake for Adventures in Motion Pictures.

1997 SWAN LAKE

Derek Deane invents "arena ballet" for ENB.

1997 RIVERDANCE

Launch of a global Irish dance phenomenon.

1998 SADLER'S WELLS

Opening of the new theatre.

1998-9 ROYAL BALLET

In early 1999 its very existence was in jeopardy. Now the gloom seems to have lifted. JG

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