Stories In Red, Sadler's Wells, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

You can have too many frills. Phoenix Dance Theatre's new bill is weighed down by flashy numbers, theatricality without substance. The dancers get through to their audience, but it's hard work.

In Darshan Singh Bhuller's last season as director of Phoenix, this bill underlines the strengths of his leadership. Theatre has been central, and after emphasising new work, he leaves with an all-new programme. Two works, by Arthur Pita and Javier de Frutos, have been co-commissioned by Sadler's Wells. Both are disappointing.

Pita's Snow White in Black claims an interest in life, death and motherhood, but it's really here for the movie stars. Snow White's stepmother becomes "Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford as The Queen", with Yann Seabra striding around in drag, lip-synching to Mommie Dearest. Sebra is brilliant, but how does that illuminate the story?

As Snow White, Tiia Ourila puts on stilt legs, which allow her to tower over the cast but weigh her down. Pita makes demands on his dancers, while giving them little chance to shine. John Bausor's sets are striking, glass and satin filling the stage with echoes of Snow White's coffin.

Bhuller's solo, Laal, is a welcome patch of discipline. Kimball Wong's dancing is taut and muscular, a return to the British dance style of the 1960s and 1970s - something we see screened before the solo in Bhuller's cinematic history of Phoenix.

Pave up Paradise is a duet by Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer. Kevin Turner and Tanya Richam-Odoi are another Adam and Eve, eating the apple, blaming each other, admitting to need. It's a brisk, cheerful number, though Duke and Meseguer give Eve the best of it.

Heaven knows what Nopalitos is about. Javier de Frutos's rambling, incoherent piece is dressed up in South American kitsch, which only adds to the confusion. Jean-Marc Puissant's set, painted curtains hanging from a circular frame, suggests a circus tent or a zoetrope. The hangings show cowboys, skeletons, pulp glamour figures. The dancers wear skeleton-print tops and balaclavas that blur the line of heads and necks. De Frutos sets up confrontations, dancers brushing with their feet like bulls preparing to charge, or grappling trios and duets. Then they drift away again, dragging on another backdrop. The dancers are admirably unfazed, but they can't make it work.

Touring to 28 June (