In Plain Clothes, Siobhan Davies Studios, London<br/>Stravinsky! A Celebration, Hippodrome, Birmingham

Dressed up in simple language
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The Independent Culture

In Plain Clothes, the new work by the British choreographer Siobhan Davies, was made to celebrate her company's new home near London's Elephant and Castle, designed from the shell of a burnt-out Victorian board school by the award-winning Sarah Wigglesworth Architects.

Sarah Wigglesworth was one of several non-dance collaborators for In Plain Clothes. Davies also invited the heart surgeon Francis Wells, landscape designer Dan Pearson and linguist Susan Hitch, who will give informal talks before some performances.

Their impact on the dance isn't immediately obvious. Davies and her dancers walk, sigh, whistle; you wouldn't guess that gardening or surgery had been involved. But the intimate space suits this work, and suits Davies. Her dancers tend to be contained, not overly concerned with theatrical projection. Here, we sit close enough to hear their breathing.

Matteo Fargion's music is a collage of words and stray notes. The dancers walk across the space, side by side, but one or two will drop out, staying centre stage to dance. The group walk is done casually. You expect some collective force from seven dancers doing something in unison, but Davies and her dancers seem to avoid that kind of impact. When one woman stops in a held position, she's neither stretched nor relaxed: the pose stays small in scale.

In an hour of duets, solos and group dances, some dancers do stand out, because they abandon the retiring manner of the company in general. Pari Naderi moves with particular tautness and precision. Crossing the stage, she has a forward drive that highlights the floor patterns: she's going somewhere.

Henry Montes and Deborah Saxon don't go quite that far, but their shuffling duet is still funny. They mooch about the studio in single file, letting hips and shoulders swing, sometimes bumping into each other when they change speed. There's a hint of jazz rhythm here, and I'd like more of it.

Birmingham has been hearing a lot of Stravinsky. The city's Igorfest, now in its second year, will play all the composer's music over four years of concert and ballet performances. Birmingham Royal Ballet's latest contribution includes a new Pulcinella, but The Firebird is the best reason to see this programme.

This new version of Pulcinella, with choreography by Kim Brandstrup, needs more light and air. It's dominated by Steve Scott's gloomy set, massive grey walls with a hint of perspective. Kandis Cook's costumes are stylised 18th century, with traditional mask and tattered clown suit for Robert Parker's Pulcinella.

There's a lively relationship between Parker and Ambra Vallo's Pimpinella, who upbraids and forgives him with equal energy. In recent works, Brandstrup has shown a new sense of feeling and observation. There's some of that in the Vallo/Parker duets. Forgiving him, she hugs him so close that he starts to fidget: there's trouble brewing in the way she won't let go.

Parker is given plenty of turns and jumps, but not enough space. These rushed-together steps don't open out enough for display, or for humour. Brandstrup finds some nice drama in the music - two gentlemen dance the long vocal line of the first song; Pulcinella, twitching in his sleep, matches the orchestral accompaniment. Yet there's too much going on. Story and dances need room to breathe.

Pulcinella is framed by two productions commissioned by Diaghilev. Balanchine's 1928 Apollo doesn't suit this company, though the ballet remains potent. Paul Murphy's conducting should be tauter, while the dancers need more boldness. But the evening is lit up by The Firebird, by Fokine's storytelling and the enchanted colours of Stravinsky's score.

Nao Sakuma is more feminine than ferocious as the Firebird, but her dancing has a bright, airborne quality, with clear mime and stage presence. She's vividly resentful at being captured by Iain Mackay's Ivan Tsarevitch. Silvia Jimenez is softly elegant as the Beautiful Tsarevna.

The dancers, and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, respond with verve to Barry Wordsworth's conducting, making the ballet's big scenes truly thrilling. There's a driving power to the "Danse Infernale", the wicked Kostcheï's minions forced to dance until they fall exhausted.

Wordsworth is at his grandest in the final coronation scene. Fokine's procession and Natalia Goncharova's designs evoke Holy Mother Russia, ranks and ranks of people assembling on stage as the music rings out in radiant triumph.

'In Plain Clothes' to 18 May (0870 730 1414), then touring. 'Stravinsky!' ends tomorrow (0870 730 1234)

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