Rambert Dance Company, Sadler's Wells, London

Come on in, the water's lovely
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The Independent Culture

At 80, Rambert is Britain's oldest dance company, and on the strength of its latest programme it's more young at heart than ever. While long-term Rambert watchers may find the accelerating turnover of dancers mildly disconcerting, when you see what they're asked to do these days it's not surprising. Bloom, commissioned to mark the anniversary from film and theatre choreographer Aletta Collins, fairly crackles with teenage energy, barely taking breath in a round of comings and goings and kissings and makings up as dizzying as an episode of Neighbours.

This is the first time Collins has made work for Rambert, and she brings to the task an amused eye for the surreal, a lively grip on the big picture and a pretty low expectation of viewers' attention spans. The subject of Bloom is romance, or rather, "the pursuit of the perfect romantic moment", but if that smacks of Classic FM schmooze then this is from another planet. In the style of a zany comedy show, an unattached door and a bunch of flowers assume a life of their own, swooping about the space to frame a stream of quirky cameos, while recorded gypsy music from the Romanian group Taraf de Haidouks and an ambulatory live bossa nova band send the eight couples (gay and straight) sprinting from scene to scene for a piece of the action.

But as much as the result is entertaining and watchable, as choreography it's instantly forgettable. Strings of 20-second solos from each of the 16 dancers have an improvised air. Even the boy-almost-gets-girl climax is throwaway. The piece is fun, but gives precious little to talk about in the interval. Happily, though, there is substance in spades next on the bill with the London premiere of Merce Cunningham's Pond Way, a work that's both a demanding exercise in technical control and a contemplation of the natural world so coolly satisfying that you want it not to end. This was a first for me, as one who has always admired the American's dispassionate patternings but been irked by their length. Perhaps Pond Way - inspired by the movement of wildlife in and over water - is more eventful than other Cunningham pieces. More likely I've just accepted that it's OK for my mind to wander and settle in a blurry trance. It may even be part of the master's plan.

This dance-as-nature-study is set against a skyscape by Roy Lichtenstein, all graduated golden dots. The music is by Brian Eno, like the stuff they play to relax you at a spa. The dancers, though, are anything but relaxed. Even at rest they have a static alertness that sets their strange, pale, silky costumes a-tremble, like the membrane of frogspawn, or the skin on the surface of a pool. As always in Cunningham, part of the fascination comes from the way images of the physical world impinge on a thing so essentially abstract. Rhythm, too, emerges with the discipline of a Bach fugue, even though the musical score doesn't even have a pulse. Performed by the 13 Rambert dancers with luminous clarity, this is Cunningham at his simplest, most mystical and most majestic. No wonder Rambert is one of few companies in the world, outside his own, that the old man trusts with his work.


Programme can be seen in Rambert's autumn tour, starting at The Lowry, Salford, in September