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The Independent Culture

David Dawson may be one of Britain's hottest young choreographers, but dance-goers in this country are unlikely to ever have seen his work. A former dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Dawson moved to the Dutch National Ballet 10 years ago and has since risen to become the company's resident choreographer. Now we finally get a chance to see what he's been up to.

The Grey Area, made in 2002, is a good place to start, and shows Dawson has a talent for creating great-looking, atmospheric modern ballet. He twists classical shapes mostly out of recognition but makes good use of the dancers' technical prowess, emphasising 180-degree angles or the gorgeous curve of a long leg and powerful pointe. It is all beautifully lit, in soft streaks of light and dim shadows, highlighting the dancers' flesh in an almost fetishistic fashion.

The opening sees three dancers make a string of molten moves in parallel lines across the stage, shifting their hips so that their bodies bend from concave to convex. They move into fluid partner work or break-out solos, with the principal Yumiko Takeshima the most arresting presence. She invests her movements with urgency and gives her tiny frame a tangible, shape-shifting weight. It's tricky stuff but distinctly unshowy, introverted even. Glimpse Takeshima's face, however, and you can see she is relishing every muscle's move. And so are we.

The Grey Area is sandwiched between two pieces from the 1950s, Balanchine's La Valse and The Concert by Jerome Robbins. Both are concerned with penetrating the façade of polite society, but while the latter attacks its subject matter with comedy, the former gets sucked into tragedy.

The star of La Valse is undoubtedly the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, who make Ravel's score soar. The Viennese waltz is synonymous with fin-de-siècle Europe and a decadent society that is spiralling into disaster. Ravel's music gloriously evokes the blithe excess and uncontrollable descent with a luscious neo-romanticism.

On stage, the self-possessed society ladies set out their crisp steps like sparkling repartee, but the figure of death looms ominously over the naïve Sofiane Sylve, who meets a dramatic fate as the menacing waltz rolls on.

By contrast, The Concert is a frothy finale that raises hoots of laughter with satire and slapstick. The dancers play the snooty audience at a recital, and Robbins mocks them all the way. It's a farce basically, but in the best possible sense - one dancing girl finds herself continually facing the wrong direction, someone gets a whack on the head, a Groucho Marx lookalike tries to murder his wife with a kitchen knife, and so on.

The Concert is technically undemanding but it does give the company a chance to show off their sharp comic timing. Personally, though, I'd rather see them show off their dancing.

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