A night when anything goes

The unlikely pairing of Javier de Frutos and Cole Porter produces a work of uninhibited danger in ...lsa Canasta
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The Independent Culture

A new work, Elsa Canasta, is one part of a Rambert Dance Company triple bill at Sadler's Wells, under the new artistic director, Mark Baldwin. The programme also includes the London premiere of Living Toys by Karole Armitage, about the meeting of dreams and consciousness, and Wayne McGregor's award-winning PreSentient, a frenzied piece inspired by Steve Reich's Triple Quartet. The music for all three works, lasting almost two hours with an intermission between each dance, is played by Rambert's associate orchestra, London Musici, conducted by Paul Hoskins.

Elsa Canasta is the second piece to be created for Rambert Dance by Javier de Frutos. His first, glitzy piece, The Celebrated Soubrette, inspired by Las Vegas, was performed at Sadler's Wells in 2000.

"Funnily enough, it is more difficult to create with the dancers a second time," says De Frutos, who trained with many of them while at the London Contemporary School of Dance in the mid-Eighties. "I needed to challenge them in different ways, in ways that they didn't expect to go with me. There was no longer this need, as I first had, to observe their physical technique. I could take their extraordinary dancing for granted. There were some new dancers also. It is always interesting to see how they add to the company."

In Elsa Canasta, 14 uninhibited dancers grope and grapple with one another in a very physical piece set to the music and songs of Cole Porter. It includes a recently rediscovered score that Porter wrote for the Swedish Ballet in 1923. The dancers are joined on stage by the Oldham-born jazz singer Melanie Marshall, who performs three of Porter's songs: "So in Love", "Down in the Depths" and "Ridin' High".

De Frutos says he was surprised when the music of Porter was suggested. "It sounded too fluffy and pink - not the way to go at all." But the ambiguity of Porter's lyrics provided him with the trigger for his choreography. "We refreshed the music: some has been slowed right down, and the songs have a melancholic, jazzy feel to them now, rather than a brassy feeling reminiscent of Broadway musicals."

Dominating the stage for the piece is a large, sweeping staircase, on which much of the dancing takes place. De Frutos is quick to stress: "It is not meant to be a gimmick. It is an extension of the stage, and it certainly gives the piece a sense of speed and danger."

Although the name Elsa Canasta suggests a woman, De Frutos says it means nothing, "although I have considered making up a story behind the name. I could have said it was a 17th-century countess who died in a gambling accident while falling down the stairs, but it isn't. I guess the name is a way of humanising the whole piece - which is abstract - and keeping it closer to me."

Rambert Dance Company, Sadler's Wells, London EC1, tomorrow to 29 Nov (020-7863 8000; www.sadlerswells.com)

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