Satisfaction, Apollo Theatre, London<br/>Trisha Brown Dance Company, The Playhouse Edinburgh

Peter Schaufuss's mission is to popularise ballet &ndash; but not even the Rolling Stones can bring this dead show to life
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The Independent Culture

No one can fault the soundtrack. It is compiled from some of the best-known rock'*'roll hits of all time, but choreographer Peter Schaufuss doesn't know how to capitalise on this golden opportunity. Instead he uses his chosen Rolling Stones songs as a crutch rather than a springboard.

The outcome is called Satisfaction. Imported from Denmark, it has bypassed conventional dance venues in favour of a West End run. There isn't a story as such, though most of the tunes are illustrated by movement that links to the lyrics. Nor is there much interesting choreography, and absolutely no edge.

A kind of motif runs through the show. It features the women in scanty white fetish gear topped by metal breast cups, white masks and feathered angel wings. They turn up again and again forming peripheral circles around various central characters. Sporting one ballet shoe and one bare foot, they perform their banal choreography with robotic ennui.

One of their major appearances occurs in "Sympathy for the Devil". Here a Lucifer-like character in a black suit pushes around a comatose, virtually nude man in a wheelchair who is seemingly unable to retaliate against the bad behaviour being inflicted on him.

Later Lucifer gradually turns himself into one of the angels as he abandons his suit in favour of the masked, winged outfit, minus the metal breasts. If there is some sort of Christian parable going on here it is muddled beyond comprehension.

Born in Copenhagen in 1949, Schaufuss was one of the greatest dancers of the 1970s, first with his home company the Royal Danish Ballet, where both of his parents performed, and later with New York City Ballet. With an honourable record for staging some of the hallowed classics from the 19th-century Danish repertory, Schaufuss served as the artistic director of English National Ballet from 1984 to 1990, but his tenure ended abruptly.

Schaufuss founded his current company in the provincial Jutland city of Holstebro in 1997. Since then he has created no fewer than 17 evening-length productions. Looking through the repertory it becomes obvious that Schaufuss feeds on celebrity. He's used Elvis and the Beatles, is planning a Michael Jackson show and is in the midst of a trilogy about the Royal Family. The first of these, Diana – The Princess, was so poorly received when it had its UK debut in Manchester two years ago that its scheduled transfer to London had to be abandoned.

In all my years of theatregoing I have never encountered so tepid an opening-night crowd. The dancers tried a post-encore rave by coming into the audience to encourage the public to boogie in the aisles. The response was a fug of lethargy. Even Angela Rippon couldn't manage more than a spin or two before sitting down again.

The Satisfaction programme credits Schaufuss with "choreography & production, direction, set, costumes & lighting design". I believe the Greeks called it hubris. And he employs a convenient get-out clause. He justifies himself by saying that he creates dance theatre for people who don't like ballet. Well, Satisfaction is the sort of event that gives populism a bad name.

No one could be farther from populist pandering than Trisha Brown. At 70 she is the doyenne of the American post-modernist movement. A beacon of eternal invention, she has left her creative imprint on a whole generation of dance-makers.

Last weekend her company brought the dance strand of this year's Edinburgh International Festival to a close. The trio of

works presented at the Playhouse ranged across the past 25 years of her career.

Everything about all that she does has a radiant translucence. In Set and Reset (1983), Brown raises this to the literal. Both the set and the costumes by the artist Robert Rauschenberg are see-through. Playing over his set – a huge cube flanked by a pair of pyramids – are black-and-white film images that often deal with flying or early space explorations.

Once this sculpture levitates to hover over the stage, the seven dancers enter and the score, Laurie Anderson's Long Time No See, begins. The music has an irresistible infectious drive that is an aural illustration of Brown's intents. Her movement, spilling in and out of the wings in inventive playfulness, has a liquid slipperiness, a grace that ripples through her dancers' bodies with a silky suppleness.

Present Tense (2003) is performed to six of 16 Sonatas and Interludes that John Cage composed for prepared piano (1946-48). It is one of Brown's most intense, closely-packed dances with its six performers clustered together, lifting one another in supportive camaraderie.

The performance concludes with Canto/Pianto, a quartet of dances prefiguring Brown's staging of Monteverdi's Orfeo which premiered in Brussels back in 1998. Stunning, sometimes lyrical, sometimes stark, they are in themselves impressive, but for all of us who have seen the complete opera, Canto/Pianto is little more than a half-way house, a lively blueprint for a full-length masterpiece.

'Satisfaction': Apollo, London W1 (0870 830 0200), to Saturday

Jenny Gilbert is away

Further viewing Stay in with a DVD of 'Performance' starring Mick Jagger as a reclusive rockstar. Or dust off your Stones CDs

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