Barry Adamson / Russell Maliphant, Barbican Hall, London

A match made in heaven
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The Independent Culture

Barry Adamson and Russell Maliphant aren't working to the same definition of cool. Adamson's music goes from lush soundtrack strings to jazz and sampling; he's keen on Sixties movie chic. Maliphant, on the other hand, is all refined detachment. His company come soberly on in their modern-dance pyjamas, ascetic and slightly scruffy. Could these dancers ever mooch?

Adamson and Maliphant were sharing a concert in the Barbican's Only Connect series of collaborations. They've worked together before; Maliphant's Broken Fall, made for George Piper Dances and Sylvie Guillem in December, had an Adamson soundtrack of quiet hums and crackles.

In these new dances, Maliphant was up against much more assertive music. Adamson has worked as a bass player for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, as a film composer for David Lynch, Danny Boyle and Oliver Stone. This concert focused on Adamson's solo work, with a lot of brass solos and squelching funk bass. The BBC Concert Orchestra joined Adamson's own rock jazz band for the widescreen orchestral numbers; it's the first time some of this music has been played live.

All those musicians were on a high platform at the back of the stage, with the front left clear for dancing. The first section is quiet, with sampled hiss and fragmented voiceovers. The orchestra comes in, with some crashes from the strings, but it still feels like background music. It's atmospheric, but it doesn't go very far.

The dancers lean against the high wall of the platform, flopped in glum attitudes. They step forward for a series of duets. Maliphant's choreography is all flowing, winding moves. A dancer will swing an arm, follow through with a turn that brings her up against her partner, lean into him for a lift. It's very fluid, and the pace is very even. There's nothing bold enough to break the current.

It's not that Maliphant's choreography doesn't include extremes. Two men run themselves against the back wall, bouncing off and turning. One lies across the other's shoulders, leaning against the wall. The supporting man starts to walk, "flying" his partner along. Even that is a slow drift, its dynamics carefully flattened. Some of the poses in these duets suggest film noir confrontations; the smooth, quiet dancing never does.

Still, Maliphant's dance starts to open up with those noir moments. Michael Hulls's lighting keeps each duet in isolation, picked out in its own square of light. Towards the end, Maliphant lets his triple duet break out. The couples start to slide in different directions, no longer strictly in line.

Adamson, meanwhile, leaves crackles behind for a cheerful lounge swagger. He brings his own band down to stage level for a central section, stepping out as a front man in "Jazz Devil". He's charming, meandering, not quite devilish; I'm not sure he quite has the ego for the spotlight. His band are fun, with sparkling trumpet and saxophone solos and some laid-back vibes playing.

For the final section, Adamson and band are back on the upper level. The balance between electric and acoustic instruments, uneven at the start, settles down in these cinematic numbers, John Barryish mix of basslines and strings. The sound is mellower, and the rhythms brighter. "I Love Paris (but it don't love me)" is warmly kitsch, with samples of "Summertime" swooningly played.

Maliphant's dancers don't quite respond to it. They certainly follow the music, breaking the usual flow with squared-elbow poses. They're on the beat, but they're not on the rhythm; there's no swing to the hips, and no warmth in the poses. The dancers still look straitlaced.

The exception is Maliphant himself. If Adamson isn't quite a frontman, Maliphant's solo is unexpectedly charismatic. He crouches down in stages, a series of dips down and back up again; he swings across the stage, letting his shoulders sway. It has more texture than any of the other numbers, and it's closer to the spirit of Adamson's score. Mooching at last.