Lighten the tone, lose the edge

<i>DV8 Physical Theatre</i> | Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
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The Independent Culture

For its new piece, opening this year's Dance Umbrella, DV8 Physical Theatre has lightened its palette and relies even more on words than before. The title is Can We Afford This and a dancer demonstrates a not-so-accurate breakdown of the price of a ticket. "For £5 I can do graceful arm movements, for an extra £5 I can do graceful arms movements with emotion." He strikes a hard bargain - "no refunds for loss of balance" - but the sight of him executing entrechats and brisés volés stark naked is worth any price.

For its new piece, opening this year's Dance Umbrella, DV8 Physical Theatre has lightened its palette and relies even more on words than before. The title is Can We Afford This and a dancer demonstrates a not-so-accurate breakdown of the price of a ticket. "For £5 I can do graceful arm movements, for an extra £5 I can do graceful arms movements with emotion." He strikes a hard bargain - "no refunds for loss of balance" - but the sight of him executing entrechats and brisés volés stark naked is worth any price.

Actually, that is an exaggeration. It is just that in the scheme of Can We Afford This, devised by the 17-strong cast under the supervision of DV8's director Lloyd Newson, it appeared more effective than much of the rest. Not that there weren't other highpoints: an assembly of clowns, turning their heads in absurd unison, for example; and a group dance picking up the movement style of one of the performers, David Toole, who uses his powerful arms and hands for the legs he does not have. And there is the set, designed by Liam Steel and Newson, a grassy vista that slopes upwards into the distance and intermittently reveals gaping entrances and discreet exits.

But otherwise so much appears as merely mildly interesting or plain objectionable. Occupying the last category is girl-voiced Paul Capsis, a Sydney cabaret artist whose parody of outré diva-dom needs more wit and fewer clichés.

The piece's overall faults are that it seems underdeveloped and derivative. In structuring it as a series of brief disconnected sketches and dances, Newson has hoped that themes about pretence, conformity, self-worth and physical perfection - the premiere was for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festivals - would emerge. He tries at the end to link these strands up with the phenomenon of suicide, so that the piece's subtitle - "The Cost of Living" - is a double entendre. But swamped amid profuse and diverse business, nothing hangs together or is convincingly explored. Only the notion of physical perfection comes across loud and clear, thanks to the presence of Toole, 72-year-old Diana Payne Myers and 24-stone Lawrence Goldhuber, offsetting the youthful beauty of other performers. Toole is remarkable, a small chopped-off, floor-bound apparition, weaving below the slow shapes of tall Kate Coyne or attaching himself to other performers to share their legs and become surreally composite two-headed creatures.

Newson has changed direction and adopted, maybe unintentionally, Pina Bausch's procedures: the jokes, the prismatic accumulation of fragmentary episodes, the performers you get to know intimately as individuals. Unfortunately, Bausch does it more humorously, more profoundly, more everything, and in the process Newson's performers - for all their attractiveness - emerge as Bausch rejects. In the past, Newson had his own accomplished and distinctive style, producing hits such as Enter Achilles and Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men. Why change? Only Bausch can do Bausch.

To 29 Sept (020-7960 4242)

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