Phoenix Dance Theatre, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Phoenix's new programme makes for a literary evening. It can be a strain: versions of Othello and The Glass Menagerie are stylised, sometimes stylish, often confusing. It's not until the final piece, Paseillo, that dance and characterisation are satisfyingly blended.

Blue Roses, the new work by artistic director Javier De Frutos, takes Tennessee Williams's play as a starting point. On the soundtrack, Williams reads passages, and the dancers illustrate it. De Frutos's most interesting decision is to double the character of Amanda, the overbearing mother. Josephine Darvill-Mills and Tiziana Fracchiolla move in sync, steps sharp and bullying. Unexpectedly, the two will split apart, surrounding her children.

Mostly, Williams's voice is more compelling than the stage action. Characters act out their scenes, but you certainly couldn't follow the plot without the voiceover. The dancing doesn't establish its own independence.

Phoenix has a policy of reviving older classics. José Limón's The Moor's Pavane (1949) is modern dance at its most respectable: Purcell music, a Shakespeare plot, a firm sense of high art.

Limón's grave, weighted steps look best on Clemmie Sveaas, as Emilia. She has a voluptuous sway to her shoulders, bending and curling as she agrees to her husband's plots. The dancers wear Renaissance costumes, designed by Pauline Lawrence, with heavy skirts for the women. Sveaas manages her skirts superbly, sailing about with sweeping dignity. The rest of this cast are intelligent and dutiful, but the ballet doesn't quite come alive. Bradley Shelver gives a fine performance of Limón's Chaconne, stepping boldly into space.

De Frutos's Paseillo is a dance for naughty 18th-century people. Jean-Marc Puissant's costumes, muddy at the hem, suggest monks or respectable maidservants, but the dancers gossip, huddle, flirt. Two men lift a woman into the air, then steal a kiss, still holding her overhead. Another pair dance in flirty unison, innuendoes in the way they pick up their feet. After an evening of stories you can't quite follow, Paseillo has no plot but plenty of character.

Touring to 28 June (www. phoenixdancetheatre.co.uk)

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