Cullberg Ballet, The Playhouse

Edinburgh Festival
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The Independent Culture

This festival programme by the Cullberg Ballet marks a changeover in the Swedish company's history: one work by its former director and long-time choreographer Mats Ek, and one by Johan Inger, the incoming director who, although Swedish, has spent most of his career until now with Nederlans Dans Theater.

There are similarities in these two works, both created only last year, yet each is distinctively in its choreographer's style. Both ballets carry a strong weight of emotion without any continual narrative, and both men choose to use a few simple objects in a black space, rather than representational scenery, to sit their dancers in an identifiable place.

I found Inger's home and home the more cogent and moving of the two. Early on, he provides some flashes of physical magic, as when a woman is lifted and shaken by a man who suddenly disappears, leaving her rising and shaking in the air on her own; or when the lone woman on stage instantaneously becomes three women.

But much of the action comprises chases or runs around the stage by groups, whose steps have a flavour that is at once comic and sinister. A kind of solicitude by one performer for another often manifests itself in actions as simple as the adjusting the position of a head or an arm.

Yet there are frequent oppositions, and at the end there's a startling effect when a woman is flung against a wall and hangs there like a corpse. It all takes place to music ranging from a Bach cello piece to pieces by three modern composers. The constantly changing backdrop consists of three flat boards that transform strikingly, and the men and women all wear skirts a little below knee-length. No realism, then, but a highly gripping and convincing community of people to care about.

Ek also shows a group who interact. There is a couple who talk nonsense to each other while a man crudely interrupts their activities around a table and a wooden chest. Two women bind one another, or passers-by, with strips of chewing gum while they dance. An oriental sequence includes dances with sunshades, ribbons and red lanterns.People are crushed between big cubes, but the sudden presence of a white toy kitten in the danger zone stops all aggression.

Ek tells us to ignore the title, Fluke: it simply comes from the Flesh Quartet's music, sensitive but disturbing, which he cites as his inspiration. The outcome is strange and disjointed, but entertaining, and need a ballet - even a ballet by the rule-breaking Mats Ek - be more than that? The Edinburgh audience obviously thought not.

Formed as a national centre for dance, Edinburgh's Dance Base, a handsome building in the Grassmarket, offers a diverse range of activity throughout the festival. I'm happy to leave to others more nimble than myself its many classes and workshops. However, I caught two of the four shows in the studio theatre.

The first brings together three choreographers, two from Austria and one from Scotland, described as award-winners (the awards unspecified). The programme could seem bitty, as none of the pieces lasts much longer than 20 minutes. But a mixed bill offers the audience a chance to sample unfamiliar works in digestible bites, and since all the pieces use only one or two dancers, putting them on is presumably not too costly.

Helene Weinzierl's contribution, ...And the Damage Done, is a solo for her Laroque Dance Company. It features Robert Tirpak, initially curled up on the floor in his undies, then interacting, in trousers and shirt, with his photographed self. This would work better if the screens on which the pictures are shown were more accurately aligned; from where I sat, the image often split in two. And I could not see much purpose to the action, although the performer is a personable young man who carries it off.

The other Austrian, Willi Dorner, brought two short dances. The more effective, How Do You Want Me?, shows Anna MacRae in a solo of slow exercises from a longer work. I remember hand movements above all, and the dancer's solemnity. MacRae joins Matthew Smith in Dorner's other piece, No Credits, which was allegedly inspired by video games and has the two of them acting as lifelessly as puppets to a doddling, fidgety score by Heinz Ditsch.

Norman Douglas's Cries and Whispers, a premiere commissioned by Dance Base, is a duet where it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the man is meant to be making love to the woman or strangling her. I assume that is its point - to show the similarity between sex and assault. It is performed by he rough, tough Theo Ndindwa and sleek, neat little Laura-Beth Bailey of Douglas's Ensemble Group. Interestingly, just as I was beginning to think that there had been altogether too much emphasis throughout the programme on movement performed flat on the floor, Douglas suddenly introduced some balletic jumps, lifts and catches.

I should like to see something more ambitious in variety of mood and movement before forming a firm view on Douglas's talent, but on this showing, his potential cannot be ruled out.

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