There's a liquid quality to Russell Maliphant's low-key choreography. When the dancer Alexander Varona flings one arm up, the impulse upwards is strong and clear, yet it takes a while for his arm to rise. The move comes through the shoulder, fluid and weighted, and it's not until the shoulder muscles have flexed and drawn together that the arm lifts, sure and calm. It's liquid as in golden syrup: nothing so splashy as water.
Maliphant, recently appointed associate artist at Sadler's Wells, has quietly established himself as a leading choreographer. His dances, influenced by capoeira, t'ai chi and yoga, have a muscular fluency: restrained, graceful, nothing forced or flashy. These works are always elegant, sometimes bloodless. Maliphant's profile was raised partly by the fame of other dancers. He was taken up by the Ballet Boyz and the French ballerina Sylvie Guillem, and this helped to take his work to larger stages, bigger audiences.
This evening starts with the new solo for Varona, a Cuban dancer last seen here with Carlos Acosta's Tocororo. He proves to be an ideal Maliphant interpreter, tall, muscular, fluent. Varona can go from a languid reclining pose to a fully stretched stance, without allowing a single angle to break flow. He's always in control of long phrases.
Light and shadow are part of Maliphant's choreography. He recently celebrated 10 years of collaboration with his lighting director, Michael Hulls, who puts the dancers in squares of light, or wraps them in a golden haze. The new Transmission starts in near-darkness. Five women move and turn on the stage, with glimmers of light - are they holding torches? We catch glimpses of hands, feet, held in a spotlight before vanishing. The crackling score, by the sound artist Mukul, samples a voice counting: it could be a radio link between spaceships. At last the spotlit hands find each other, clasp, move on. Now, the five wind around each other, a line holding hands, or break into smaller groups. They cast shadows on the walls, or drift from one box of light to another.
Push, originally danced by Maliphant and Guillem, looks quite different with Varona and Julie Guibert, who are less evenly matched: when he picks her up, he can cradle her small body protectively. Guillem's height, quite apart from her stardom, made her physically imposing. With its new cast, Push becomes softer, gentler, more modest.