Glacier, Laban Centre, London
Sylvia, Royal Opera House, London

Global warming is a big subject. Sadly, writhing around the floor in engine oil, while briefly entertaining, is unlikely to help

You wait half an hour for the most arresting image in Maresa von Stockert's latest show, Glacier, and it's almost worth the wait: a pouting, Beyoncé-like strut for seven dancers in pristine white clothes, wielding large, glossy black oil cans. It's the girls that draw the eye, each hugging and caressing her can as if it were an £800 handbag and squeezing it lasciviously between bare thighs. At an invisible signal, each removes the cap and does a butt-wiggling walk, shouldering the can like a gun as thick dark gunge dribbles down her back and legs. Soon the floor is so slimy it's impossible to stand. Limbs flail and slide, bodies collapse and collide. Ah, yes, the petroleum-reliant world is losing its grip. We get the message.

There's a good reason why dance makers rarely engage with political issues: movement, even with words to help, is just too blunt an instrument. Some years back, Darshan Singh Bhuller had great success with a piece about the Bosnian war, but he cleverly hitched a ride on the Romeo and Juliet story. Global warming is a bigger, more nebulous topic. Yes, we should be worried about it. But all dance can do, on this evidence, is wring its hands and fret.

There are other images that stick – so to speak – and maybe that's a small triumph in itself. In a sequence about throwaway plastic, a dancer secretes empty drinks bottles in the sleeves of his jumper. Wrapping his double-length arms in knots, his solo not only evokes the struggles of a tar-damaged seabird, but a scuzzy Oxfam version of Martha Graham's famous jersey-dance in Lamentation.

Earlier, to the baroque strains of a Purcell aria about "everlasting snow", performers swivel slowly on shards of polystyrene on a shiny black floor, as if adrift on diminishing ice floes. Later, though, they're using them as Frisbees, and then surfboards, which is fast and a lot of fun, but seems irrelevant. The choreography, when it gets stuck into something more dance-like, is often ungainly, though there's a strong duet for two guys balancing on a too-small triangle of "ice".

Stockert and her designer Naomi Wilkinson have evidently looked hard at the possibilities of polystyrene sheeting – a substance which, we are reminded solemnly in the opening spiel, is "a material derived from petroleum, far more durable than us". Adrian Plaut's seductive lighting does indeed transform this cheap packaging into suggestions of a serene arctic world, a world that, under threat, is suddenly so precious.

Stockert has used text in previous work, and doesn't stint on it here. Though it's admirable of performers to be able to deliver lines while dancing, their strenuous efforts not to breathe too heavily into the radio mic often distract from what they are saying. The hard fact is that however slyly and sardonically you spin your ideas, the words "environmental change" make a plonking verbal trope.

A less pretentious dose of nonsense is offered by the Royal Ballet. Sylvia, the 1952 ballet by Frederick Ashton, is looking even emptier and sillier than it did when rescued from oblivion three years ago, now that curiosity is sated.

The plot, based on classical myth, tracks the amorous adventures of gods and their acolytes: a lovelorn shepherd who spends most of his time lying on the floor with an arrow in his chest, and an Amazonian who, in a tutu fashioned like a pair of swag curtains, romps about the Roman countryside chasing and shooting dinner. Ashton even writes a duet for a pair of goats. Too camp to be taken seriously, not quite camp enough to be funny, Sylvia is, frankly, a bore, albeit one stuffed with intricate steps intended as a challenge to Margot Fonteyn.

The high reputation of Delibes' thin, over-pretty music, what's more, is simply baffling. "If I had known this music before," wrote Tchaikovsky, "I would not have written Swan Lake." Thank goodness, then, that he didn't hear it till Swan Lake was in the bag.

'Glacier': touring until 11 April. Tour details: tilted.org.uk. 'Sylvia': ROH (020-7304 4000) in rep until 31 March

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor