Colin Poole, Clore Studio, ROH, London

Nothing but a blank expression
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The Independent Culture

By day a place for class and rehearsal, the Royal Opera House's Clore Studio Upstairs by night is a beautiful, hushed and informal space for performance. It hosts the Artists' Development Initiative, directed by Deborah Bull and existing not only to open fortress ROH's doors to visiting artists (as does the Linbury Studio Theatre in the same building), but to spark new ideas and skills in the collision of different creative communities.

In this spirit, the present series of three week-long programmes, subtitled the Back Garden Project, aims to give Royal Ballet dancers a taste of behind-the-scenes administration. If you've always wondered what Jane Burn would look like as a press officer, here is your chance to find out.

Colin Poole, formerly with Rambert Dance Company, now a freelance dancer and choreographer, provides the second Back Garden Project programme. Where last week's Seven Sisters Group had transformed the Clore Studio beyond all recognition into a magical labyrinth, he keeps it intact, performing to the rows of pull-out seating. Or at least, he might be performing to them, since in Bad Faith, opening the triple bill, he and Rachel Krische stare out solemnly beyond, as if checking each movement in an invisible mirror behind.

At first the movement grips you with its inventiveness, hyper-supple duet shapes swivelling, semaphoring and slotting into each other to rapid alternations of recorded music. The physically articulate performers produce a wonderful contrast – he, tall and lanky, she, small and curvy – while their manoeuvres become increasingly erotic.

But the activity soon palls because of the uncertainty of tone. Confronted by the dancers' determinedly impassive faces, you are never sure whether this is deadpan comedy. It's not until the end that the humour declares itself unequivocally, by which time it's too late.

All three pieces need to sharpen up their intentions. It's not enough to throw a few half-formed notions together in the hope that themes will muddle through. The solo Safe has Sonja Peedo wearing a fencer's face shield and making repetitive sinuous moves within a circle of light. (Chahine Yavyoran's lighting design is excellent throughout.) It is, though, only the printed information that tells me the piece is a provocative work examining the tension between power, resistance and vulnerability.

Ed King's elaborate set for Nobodies Perfect creates the impression of a room, inhabited by three women in the polyester platinum wigs and rigid masks of dolls. (Facial expression seems to be a no-no in this programme.) Poole's concern seems to be with female stereotypes, drilled into girls by a consumerist market, but again he needs to take more precise aim at his targets.

As with the other pieces, vagueness blunts his rhetoric, the dance becomes tedious and the Clore Studio begins to resemble a Jaguar, powered by the engine of a scooter.

To 22 Sept, 020-7304 4000

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