Modern dance is very new to China. This young company has strong dancers but weak choreography. There's a mix of styles and influences here, an attempt to remake a Western tradition on Chinese terms. It hasn't yet taken root.
It's only since the reforms of the 1980s that Chinese artists have been able to develop their own modern dance companies. In 1998, when the Beijing Modern Dance Company gave up government support, it became China's first not-for-profit arts organisation, and makes its London debut as part of this year's China in London festival.
Oath – Midnight Rain, choreographed by Gao Yanjinzi, illustrates the cycle of Buddhist rebirth. In opening and closing scenes, a red cloth links one dancer to the next. In between, a series of solos represent the same soul as a flower, grass, a fish, a bird and an insect.
The styles are certainly diverse. The flower solo is danced by a man who wraps his blue-and-black tulle skirt around him, fluffing up its layers into petals, turning over into a shoulder stand, legs twisting above him. The colours, the make-up and his Pierrot skullcap make this look like something from a 1980s pop video, all electric blues and eyeliner.
Later solos show a women gesturing through loose sleeves, a man manipulating flags and banners. The final insect is a man in a bodice and knickers, his face painted in the pinks and whites of a Chinese opera heroine. He swings from a low trapeze, twitches or rubs his feet together.
The solos are very, very long. Yanjinzi, who is also the company's creative director, is short on memorable movement ideas. Once the dancers have flicked their skirts, their wings, their billowing silks, they haven't much more to do.
Hu Lei's Unfettered Journey is better. To a crackle of electronic music, dancers in loose black costumes flicker through their steps, brilliantly precise. Bending into a deep lunge, they stop dead several times then continue, as crisply as if they came with an on/off switch.
Then it loses momentum. The music shifts to singing, with the dancers slowing for some vague, swooping moves. They arrange themselves in lines, or return dressed in delicate white pyjamas, manipulating fans.
Number follows number like beads on a string, with little sense of development. Perhaps that's intentional – Hu Lei draws on the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi's idea of a journey without deliberate end – but it makes for an unfocused theatrical experience. Still, Hu Lei shows off the fluidity and control of these fine performers.Reuse content