Morphoses: The Wheeldon Company, Sadler's Wells, London
Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
James Thiérrée, Barbican Theatre, London

Dancers give up their holidays to join the troupe run by Christopher Wheeldon. Not all the work merits it

They say "tomayto"; we say "tomahto". They respond positively to smooth PR; our hackles rise at the same sales talk. They like to believe ballet dancers live the life of a Ralph Lauren photoshoot; we're reassured to see ours at work in holey tights.

On launching the world's first cross-Atlantic ballet company three years ago, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon gave himself an ongoing dilemma: to see if there is a way of appealing to the specialised tastes of London and New York with the same live performance/dance film package. He hasn't discovered it yet, and at the moment, to judge by the opening night of his company's short residency at Sadler's Wells, the Big Apple is getting the upper hand. That's where the money is, presumably.

The mixed bill from Morphoses opens with a well-mannered spiel that would cause the breast of Mrs Wheeldon of Yeovil to swell with pride, as the director thanks the venue for having him and wishes everyone a wonderful time. He might just as well let his choreography speak for itself, for it is a fine thing, certainly the finest of the evening. Commedia, a contemporary take on the commedia dell'arte theme of Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite (a score commissioned by Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes, whose centenary year this is), looks massively more assured than it did at the Wells last year. Svelte in harlequin unitards, Wheeldon's dancers are of the racehorse breed: perfectly proportioned, impeccably lean, beautifully trained. It says much about the choreographer's status that such artists gave up their summer break to work with him (a process we glimpse, briefly, in an arty film showing rehearsals at a sunlit Martha's Vineyard mansion).

Stravinsky's Pulcinella is an odd hybrid, part curlicued Baroque manners, part 20th-century raspberry-blowing, and that vigorous conflict is perfectly caught in the playing of the band under Paul Murphy. If some of Wheeldon's choreography looks polite, it eventually hits its stride in a cheeky, butt-waggling solo for a pointy-hatted Punch, followed by a sublimely amorous duet. Wheeldon's old Royal Ballet pals Ed Watson and Leanne Benjamin are perfect here; despite the age gap (he's in his thirties, she's 44-going-on-15), they have a gorgeously easy rapport, and as their flirtation climaxes in a full-on, lingering kiss, sustained as Benjamin travels in pirouettes of tiny fluttering steps, your own heartbeat responds in kind.

Too bad the rest of the evening fell short of this bracing start. Alexei Ratmansky's Boléro promised much, lining up three boys and three girls like competitive skaters in numbered vests. (Quite likely the ex-Bolshoi director was referencing the old Torvill and Dean routine, which briefly made Ravel's industrialist score the world's top classical pop.) Alas, that propulsive crescendo, with its increasingly rude trombones, does not correspond with what we see: a youthful mixing and matching of couples and single-sex groups, like a rehearsal for a college cheerleading team: clean fun, but ultimately bland.

The other two pieces on the bill should, frankly, be binned if Wheeldon wants a future for his company in Britain. The perfumed Leaving Songs, is, according to its Australian maker Tim Harbour, who speaks on the preceding film, about how life ends in death and then, erm, starts again. Bare-chested boys in blue carry girls in baby pink, they all hug balloons that resemble giant tears, while the orchestra's string section sobs in sympathy. Only marginally less vacuous is Softly As I Leave You, a duet for an inexplicably tortured couple and a plywood box by Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon. Oh the beauty, oh the suffering, but oh the tedious emotional cliché. It left me longing for a few rough edges.

Shobana Jeyasingh is good on grit. Which isn't to say that her work lacks polish – far from it – but that her interest lies in the cracks and joins of our racially mixed society, and the tricky cultural compromises that arise from them.

For the past two decades she has introduced elements of bharata natyam into contemporary dance forms. Bruise Blood, presented by Dance Umbrella, is the latest outcome, and takes its cue from a spoken phrase uttered by a young African-American falsely accused of murder in Harlem in the 1960s.

The composer Steve Reich used this emotive snippet as the basis of a score, and Jeyasingh has taken up the baton, employing the composer Glyn Perrin and beat-boxer Schlomo to sample it further, creating a highly charged aural environment for dance.

So far, so fascinating. But in the event the exertions of Jeyasingh's dancers were out-funked by the on-stage techie hunched over the hand-held mic. Great idea to earn street cred with an act that appeared at Glastonbury. Not so great when the teenage audience's screams for Schlomo obliterate all else.

Faultline, an older work, taps into the zeitgeist more profoundly. Inspired by the novel Londonstani, Jeyasingh fashions a gripping picture of disaffected youth and cultural integration using gestures that mirror the mix of Punjabi, text and and street slang found in the book. Fleetly, dazzlingly executed, disturbing in what it tells you about another, shadowier, Britain, Faultline is testament to the sterling value of Jeyasingh's ongoing project.

And so to the word-of-mouth hit Raoul, the one-man-show from an artist impossible to pigeonhole, James Thiérrée, a true grandson of Charlie Chaplin in his physical comedy, yet with a melancholic bent that tips it into murkier philosophic territory. Raoul is a man in search of his true self, but when he finds that self warming its toes in his own armchair, an existentialist crisis ensues. Vaudeville skits are spun into an absorbing yarn. Ever imagined a man both riding a horse and being the horse? Thought not.

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
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.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea