Dance review: The Four Seasons - Stand back, it’s the fiddler on the hoof

Unleashing a soloist to wander through Vivaldi is a stroke of genius – but does ‘The Four Seasons’ also need six dancers?

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The Independent Culture

Vivaldi knew a thing or two about making art accessible, so it's hardly surprising that his set of fiddle concertos known as The Four Seasons is the call-waiting music of every other high-street bank. For the same reason, it was an obvious choice for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's groovy new venture The Night Shift, presenting classical and baroque music in a relaxed, late-evening setting complete with drink-in-hand policy, chats with the performers, and an MC compelled to say "woo!" with each round of applause.

The OAE's string players and their guest soloist Kati Debretzeni (who also functioned as conductor) superbly rose to the challenge of keeping the ensemble tight while Debretzeni took her violin on walkabout downstage, the better for the audience to witness her powerhouse technique, as Vivaldi tasks the soloist with summoning the very sight and feel of summer rain, the pressing of grapes, icicles in winter and so on.

Job done, given that Vivaldi himself provided programme notes in the form of four sonnets whose imagery tracks the music. But no, as foreground to this performance, we have six dancers in vests and knickers and choreography by Henri Oguike. This has the perverse effect of obscuring Vivaldi's pictorial detail and adding a layer of abstraction.

It also erects a barrier between audience and orchestra, whose show this ought to be. That said, Oguike's contribution certainly matches the music's oomph. For Spring, he invents a rutting canter, the dancers charging across the stage only to turn on each other and box like hares. In Spring's slow movement, the goatherd and faithful dog of Vivaldi's poem are replaced by an entwining couple, who all but nuzzle the scroll of Debretzeni's instrument as she woos them like a gypsy in a restaurant. It's not a new idea to bring dance and music-making up close (Balanchine did it 40 years ago in Duo Concertant), but it's an intimacy worth pursuing. Perhaps Oguike's Four Seasons will make more sense when it takes its place in a programme of dance. As an adjunct to a concert, it gilds the lily.

As selling points go, the industrial past of The Print Room, in London's Bayswater, has served it well as a venue for drama with a stripped-down aesthetic. Its audience pressed against the walls, it offers an intimate, in-the-square experience, so close, the actors could sit in your lap. With FLOW, it extends the remit to dance, although you could say this exploration of H2O is the ultimate in immersive theatre: spectators are handed waterproof ponchos at the door and, boy, do we need them. By the end, sprinklers have turned the performing space into a sizeable pond in which the five dancers frolic, stamp and loll, making fearsome waves as they scoot across the floor on their stomachs.

At the start, though, the mood is cool to the point of frigid. A glistening translucent cube (design by Tom Dixon) encases a slow-moving male dancer who provides his own chiaroscuro lighting by way of a hand-held LED stick. It seems to slice the textures of Peter Gregson's glacial music, as well as the gloom.

As the watery theme evolves by way of mist and rain, Hubert Essakow's choreography squeezes multiple possibilities from his fine small cast, sending ripples along limbs and between bodies, or massing them in broiling oceanic storms. In a highly charged duet between Sonya Cullingford and Thomasin Gulgec, it's hard not to think of the human turmoil wrought by floods.

Spoken anecdotes (including the disarming confession from one dancer that he sweats a lot) feel slightly tacked on, and a projected list of water-related facts might have come straight from an Oxfam campaign (they just needed following up). Overall, though, FLOW is a model of saying quite a lot with quite a little, and beautifully.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, aka the New York drag troupe The Trocks, are no strangers to these shores, but it was apt that they should open in the blue-rinse heartland of Kent the day the Commons voted for gay marriage. To a sold-out house, the 17-strong all-male company brought nothing but pleasure, delivering a programme of 19th-century classics with both gusto and technical aplomb. A generation reared on Lily Savage and Dame Edna "gets" The Trocks very quickly, and the jokes in Swan Lake Act II brought the house down. Impressive, too, how the company keeps the comedy fresh: many of the gags were new to me, though I still enjoyed seeing Prince Siegfried find swan poop on his shoe, and the swan-maiden two rows back felled by Odile's grand battement. Oh yes, and the renegade cygnet in the famous arms-linked pas de quatre, who's never quite in step with the other three.

The comic timing is immaculate, but even cleverer is the way the material appeals on multiple levels. Know-nothings adore the slapstick. Balletomanes lap up the history (where else can you see La Vivandière of 1844?), and the sending up of ballet manners (only a tad exaggerated). And everyone loves the living proof that gender needn't be destiny.

Oguike Dance returns in May. 'FLOW': to 23 Feb (020-7221 6036). The Trocks: Bradford Alhambra (01274 432000) Tue & Wed; Brighton Dome (01273 709709) Fri & Sat; and touring

Next Week

Jenny Gilbert fully inhales Two Cigarettes, by Pina Bausch

Critic's choice

The Royal Ballet marks the 25th anniversary of the death of its founding choreographer Frederick Ashton with a bill of five short works. These range from the swooning La Valse (set to music by Ravel) to the space-age abstraction of Monotones (Erik Satie). Then there's full-throttle passion in Marguerite and Armand, which meshes the entirety of Lizst's storming B minor piano sonata with the story of La Dame aux Camélias. At London's Royal Opera House (Tue to 23 Feb).