Rambert, Sadler's Wells, London

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The Independent Culture

Booking tickets to see Rambert will always be an act of faith. Given the company's commitment to new work, you never know what you're in for. "What sort of training do they need to do this stuff?" asked my date at Sadler's Wells. It's a pertinent question with no simple reply, since the current programme requires mastery of not only ballet and contemporary, but also tap, gymnastics and advanced yoga. The musical content, too, ranges far and wide, from oriental gongs to cabaret, and from storming Nina Simone blues to orchestral Mozart, most of it live. No concert hall would offer such variety.

The company brought two premieres to its run at Sadler's Wells, and the first, by company member Melanie Teall, was a gentle surprise. Short, light and beautifully crafted, l'Eveil is a perfect picture, its cast of swimsuited odalisques stretching languid limbs on a surface lit to look like Monet's lily-pond. As the magnificent Mela-nie Marshall steps on stage to sing Kurt Weill's song of smoky longing "Je ne t'aime pas", the women form kaleidoscope patterns, making and breaking lines and triangles and whorls like swimmers in an Esther Williams display. And as the floor surface morphs from Monet's pool to Hockney's, and the singer segues into Nina Simone's raunchy "Feeling Good" (souped up with an impressive four horns in the pit), the women thrust out their hips to its jazzy rhythms, increasing in gorgeous abandon.

The other novelty, Infinity, by Australian choreographer Garry Stewart, is something from another universe. Insect-like, crouching, dancers flick out limbs, grapple in mortal combat or travel by furious rolling. Crabbed hands and crooked shoulders suggest creatures out of sci-fi, flickering and insubstantial.

At the same time, lines of linked figures, in serene profile like slaves on an Egyptian frieze, move with almost imperceptible slowness, as showers of red petals (or flakes of bloodied skin, depending on your point of reference) trickle silently round them.

Luke Smiles's score – world-music sounds combined in grinding electronic anthems (shades of the movie ET), drives the sense of arcane ritual, though its persistence, for me, finally grates. Whether this is Stewart's vision of planet Earth's ultimate demise, or a glimpse into a fantastic past, is left open. Maybe it's both.

I've not seen dance so atmospheric yet so hard to place. It's literally like nothing on Eearth, and that's some achievement.

In such company, Chris-topher Bruce's sardonic Swansong looks almost like plain speaking. The shock is that its message resonates as strongly today as it did at its premiere 20 years ago, when Bruce invoked the power of pure dance to tackle an issue more usually addressed by Amnesty International.

Three dancers are involved: two interrogators in khaki uniforms, and their victim. The piece works through a sequence of vignettes, the guards tap-dancing a question, the prisoner tapping a reply, whose gist is an increasingly weary denial.

As in cinema, implying violence is much more effective than showing it. In this case the bolts of blinding pain inflicted by acts of torture we mercifully don't see are visualised as wild energy ricocheting through air-borne bodies.

The evening is completed by last year's Gran Partita, Karole Armitage's slightly cheeky take on classical style. Gloriously confident dancing is enhanced by London Musici's glorious Mozart playing: so good, it's almost ambrosial.



Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent (0870 060 6649) 21-23 Nov; Theatre Royal, Plymouth (01752 267222) 28 Nov to 1 Dec

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