Martha Graham, perhaps sensing a challenger, used to call Paul Taylor her naughty boy.
In 1950s New York he did cut a radical figure, once performing a minimalist duet that contained no movement at all, prompting a newspaper review that comprised four inches of empty space.
But you wouldn't guess that from Roses, a lyrical work Taylor made in 1985 and which Rambert introduced to its repertoire only last week. Typically, though, Roses is far from flowery – more an exploration of grown-up love, a Valentine to the kind of caring bond that has outlived the blandishments of romance.
The curtain rises on five couples in a dusky light, the women sombre in long navy dresses. The music is Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, played in a scaled-down orchestration with transparent tenderness by the Rambert band conducted by Paul Hoskins. Wagner proves a surprisingly good fit for dance, or at least for Taylor's serene, curvaceous manner, more classical than you expect. Not all of Rambert's dancers are quite classical enough, though, with the result that some of the frozen poses fall short of their full gorgeousness.
Just as you think you've got the measure of this creamy barefoot classicism, Taylor lobs gymnastics into the mix: a woman forward-rolls along the torso of her supine partner; another pair take turns to cartwheel deftly through each other's scissored legs, not once breaking the balletic flow or the spell of grave sweetness that prevails like scent in a garden.
It's only when it's over that you realise what a challenge for the dancers Roses is: they're all on stage all of the time. By contrast, Monolith, by Tim Rushton, is full of violent comings and goings, chunkily athletic, almost caveman in their brutality, accom-panied by noisily exhaled breath.
Rushton, who trained at the Royal Ballet School but who has worked in northern Europe ever since, has developed a tough, expressionistic language unmediated by the British ballet aesthetic. Monolith is set to Peteris Vasks' stark, nordic Piano Quartet, drawing another notable performance from the pit. On a stage dominated by petrified columns against a jagged range of hills, the 11 dancers move with a startling stridency, squatting into cuboid shapes and flinging out limbs like catapults. If dance could speak in grunts, this would – an extraordinary work.
The weak link on the bill is Henrietta Horn's Cardoon Club, a foxy 1960s cabaret pastiche whose jokes are delicious first time, but wear awfully thin on multiple repetition. Inside that tedious 45 minutes is a snappy 10-minute hit begging for mercy.
Paucity of material wasn't the problem in Clara, Cathy Marston's new work for Bern Ballett, making a visit to Covent Garden's Linbury Studio. Clara attempts to get inside the mind of Clara Wieck, the brilliant pianist wife of the composer Robert Schumann, whose tussles with her disapproving father, would-be lover Brahms and mentally unstable spouse, not to mention the burden of juggling a concert career and eight children, were often overwhelming.
The result, sad to say, is dance for the radio. Songs and piano pieces by Wieck, Schumann and Brahms are coolly and beautifully delivered from the stage, but the choreography sheds no light whatever on the topic: it's just a woman duetting fulsomely with a series of men, only one of whom, bizarrely, wears trousers (the dad, one hoped). The point Marston hasn't grasped is that heart-on-sleeve emotion is superfluous in Schumann's world: it's all subtly encoded in the music.
Rambert takes the 'Roses' programme on tour in the autumn.
Jenny Gilbert surveys a sea of naked flesh in the French-Canadian show Un peu de tendresse, bordel de merde!
You can't see the Royal Ballet unless you go to London, right? Wrong. The BP Summer Big Screens season beams live performances of ballet and opera to 21 locations across the UK, from Belfast, Bristol and Bradford to Waltham Forest and Woolwich. The season kicks off with Manon this Wednesday, starring Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg.