Solos with Piano or Not... Barbican London

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The Independent Culture

At the age of 55, Mikhail Baryshnikov still moves with absorbing skill. The thinnest material is interpreted with lucid precision and grace, and when he is given something better, his work takes on great warmth.

In 40 years, Baryshnikov has had several careers: as pre-eminent ballet dancer with the Kirov and, in the West, as company director and leader of a modern-dance group. As a soloist, he still commissions new dances, such as Solos with Piano or Not..., a programme of original work mostly accompanied by music from the Croatian pianist Pedja Muzijevic.

Cesc Gelabert's In a Landscape is an inconsequential number to music by John Cage. Baryshnikov walks and turns, wanders and lifts his hands to his brow. His line is still classical, and his clarity makes you notice and care about how those steps work. In one tick-tock step he shifts from foot to foot, swinging a leg to the side each time. He's as steady as a metronome, and his side-to-side tilt looks just as inevitable.

Tere O'Connor's Indoor Man, to tango pieces by David Jaggard and Conlon Nancarrow, slings a box around Baryshnikov's shoulders. It's wallpapered inside, and when he pulls a switch there are lights in there, too. His timing is brilliant, especially in a chattering series of mime gestures, but the jokes are spread very thin.

The choreographer Lucinda Childs is a postmodern minimalist. In Opus One she goes back to early modern dance, giving Baryshnikov an oval frame stretched with gauze. He swings it, folds it, ripples and spins with it, like Loie Fuller manipulating her butterfly wings.

Despite Baryshnikov's skill, this is a dry series of dances. He finds more in them than you'd think possible, but all his dynamic intelligence doesn't give them sparkle. Muzijevic plays his own solos between dances, from Scarlatti to Schoenberg, but there is a staleness about those, too.

Eliot Feld's two pieces are set to taped music. In Yazoo, Baryshnikov mooches about the stage to blues numbers, shaking himself like a high-stepping ragdoll. Mr XYZ uses 1920s and 1930s songs, sung with plenty of croak by Leon Redbone. Here, he totters on in braces and straw hat, complete with choreographed shakes. He dances with a walking-stick; with a chair; with a dressmaker's dummy. For something so upbeat, it isn't that funny.

Things improve with Michael Clark. For these London performances, Clark has expanded the solo Rattle Your Jewelry into a group piece, with dancers from his own company. Clark and Baryshnikov walk; stretch; lean into steps; then burst into a run as The Beatles' "Back in the USSR" starts to play. The dancers circle the stage, with squared elbows and juicy pliés. In between, Baryshnikov zips through with explosive style and gleaming footwork. It's a bright occasion piece, a rush of energy, and the Latvian master is suddenly blithe as well as brilliant.

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