Ballet Rambert, The Lowry, Salford

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The Independent Culture

There are endless ways of going up and down a staircase as Javier De Frutos demonstrates in his second work for Ballet Rambert, Elsa Canasta. One of two new commissions central to the company's extensive autumn tour, it takes its inspiration from a production of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which left De Frutos with the indelible impression of Honey pacing obsessively up and down a set of stairs. This, and the words of his compatriot, the Venezuelan playwright Isaac Chocron, "Repetition is theatre's fuel", provided his stimulus.

Whatever the dangers of repetition, any such pitfalls are successfully avoided in De Frutos's translation of Cole Porter's music into movements so fluid, so atmospheric of Porter's time and idiom, and yet so fresh and vivid. The sexual chemistry between the two male dancers who open the piece excited yet another spontaneous outburst of whoops and whistles from the mainly teenage Lowry audience and in the sequence of touchy-feely rendezvous that follows there is no let-up to the dynamic charge humming away.

Whether tripping lightfootedly, descending crab-like, swaggering, skittering or shimmying up and down the tall staircase set upstage, and taking banister rather than barre, Rambert's engaging dancers throw themselves whole-heartedly into De Frutos's inventive series of encounters. There are several witty quasi-chorus line-ups but the emphasis is on more intimate confrontations. Here they depict the tension of a relationship with an abrupt gesture, reject an unwanted advance with insouciance, spar playfully but also menacingly with each other, and illustrate De Frutos's craft with polish.

The men wear grey trousers, the women simple cocktail-style dresses. The stark staircase could be on an ocean liner, in a grand hotel. Abstract though the choreography is, the implied narrative on stage is spelled out in Porter's upbeat music, ranging from the seductive, rediscovered ballet score Within the Quota to Melanie Marshall's smouldering rendition of the vocal number Ridin' High. London Musici (playing live for four of the five works featured in Rambert's new season) doesn't put a collective foot wrong.

Earlier in this programme, the 20 miniatures making up Hans van Manen's Visions Fugitives were turned into a seamless sequence of elegant, quirky and beautifully lit pictures, perfectly attuned to Prokofiev's accompanying music. And if anyone in the audience attracted to 21 by the name Kylie Minogue expected flesh and blood, I hope they weren't too disappointed. She made a possibly greater impression on film, cunningly superimposed on and towering over the apparently Lilliputian figures weaving around her picture. Rafael Bonachela's choreography, dwarfed by the arrival of such a celebrated image, seems to draw much of its hypnotic gravity from Benjamin Wallfisch's compelling score.

Ballet Rambert tours until December with a selection from five works to Norwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes, High Wycombe, Edinburgh, London Sadler's Wells and Plymouth, before continuing next year, starting at Truro in February, (020-8630 0600; www.rambert.org.uk)

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