Cathy Marston, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

The choreographer Cathy Marston is the first associate artist of ROH2. That means she is part of the Royal Opera House's plans for encouraging young artists. ROH2, directed by Deborah Bull, was set up to make best use of the House's "alternative" spaces, its studio theatres. The aim is to encourage new work, and the technical resources are terrific. Marston appeared at the Linbury Studio, with 15 Royal Ballet dancers and live music. This is a long way beyond the budget of most young choreographers.

All well and good, but - Cathy Marston? Is she really the most deserving choreographer they could find? She's made several pieces for earlier ROH initiatives, on new work bills by English National Ballet, most recently for George Piper Dances. Her dances are ballets softened by contemporary dance, often with literary themes though usually without narrative. Was she a good choice?

Traces (2000) is the oldest piece on this bill, and the best. It's a faintly nautical ballet. Yann Tiersen's music has jaunty accordion tunes, and the dancers have rolled-up trouser legs. Its opening dance has some fast, folk-inflected footwork for the men, not very detailed but quick and lively. The second scene, a couple flirting, goes over lightly. But it goes on for half an hour, and it loses headway as it goes. More characters are sketched, a rival girl and a gang of boys. Marston does not settle into full storytelling. She slips into her main idiom, meandering dances with implied relationships.

The new Broken Fiction shows the repetitions of a relationship. A woman comes to visit a man. They take off their coats, they dance, she leaves. Repeat, and repeat again. Marston was inspired by Dave Maric's jazzy score and by Hanif Kureishi's fiction. When Kureishi's stories were filmed, their sexual content caused a minor scandal. Marston's piece is not explicit about anything. The dancers get more agitated, speeding up and throwing each other around, but it does not become psychological insight.

Unstrung Tension is a pure dance piece to a cello solo by Carl Vine. The stage is lit in squares, shadows and patches of light. Dancers stretch in and out of the shadows, lean into attitudes. Marston gives her dancers more precise steps and they give her a committed performance.

This is still a studio performance, a small-scale venture by a young artist. The atmosphere was supportive. It seems mean to judge such a show by absolute standards. And yet this performance was created with expensive support. It is small by Opera House standards, lavish by those of contemporary dance. That means we would like to see results. New work is always a gamble, a risk worth taking. I do not think Marston has paid off.