Transtep, The Place, London

Out of step with the times
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The Independent Culture

A single work for the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company, made by four choreographers using five composers, Transtep is a puzzle. You need a map to see who did what, because they don't switch choreographers until after the music has changed, so the programme note is a triumphantly confusing line diagram, with colour and pattern representing dance and music. Unpicking it all feels like doing a cryptic crossword.

I carried on puzzle-solving during the performance, because the dances weren't absorbing enough to distract me from it. The strangest thing is the lack of contrast between choreographers. There are certainly changes of influence: Jeyasingh's background in Indian classical dance makes her easy to spot. Her fine dancers take whatever is thrown at them, but none of the dances becomes distinctive. Transtep keeps losing its way.

The opening section starts in a thick fog of dry ice, lit by blue strobe lights. Ryoji Ikeda's music bleeps gently, a stretch of scratched-record noises. Jeyasingh's modern dance is shaped by references to the classical Indian style Bharata Natyam - a foot bluntly flexed, a turned wrist with spread fingers, the thwack of a foot - but the steps are loosely put together, and Jeyasingh blurs the strong poses with aimless gestures.

Some way through Ikeda's crackles, the choreographer Rashpal Singh Bansal takes over. It's hard to guess where the join comes. The dancing is more of the same, but becomes simpler. Saju Hari is striking in one solo, sinking to a grandly held pose on one knee.

The next choreographer is Filip van Huffel, co-founder of the Retina dance company. His music is a Mozart sonata, taped and interrupted by rain sounds. (Lucy Carter's lighting suggests a rain-spattered window.) Five dancers circle each other, stopping in clumps for some complex partnering. The women are lifted over shoulders or turned. The gestures have a sentimental emphasis, with non-specific caresses.

The corps de ballet section is brighter. Van Huffel regroups the dancers, setting them running in patterns. They sweep across the stage in a line; one stops dead, breaking the formation as the others dash past. The running and patterns suggest the influence of Mark Morris, but without Morris's sense of musical architecture. Van Huffel works hard at his stage picture, but he overlooks the sonata's rhythms.

On to Terry Riley's electronic music, and to the Swedish choreographer Lisa Torun. The dancers gather and huddle, wind their arms and lift each other. The intricate partnering has too much working out: Torun gets the dancers into tangles, and takes too long to get them out again. Finally, they stand over Carter's light-fittings, each dancer spotlit from below, gesticulating as if over a witches' cauldron.

The weakness of these sections makes Jeyasingh look stronger, which surely wasn't the point of the exercise. Her finale meanders, but it's still the tautest part of the evening.

Navala Chaudhari dances a barefoot ballet solo: no pointe shoes, but she bourrées elegantly, with turnout and a pulled-up ballet stance. It's a formal, courtly link from Glyn Perrin's transitional music into Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. This is a Tasso story proclaimed by madrigal singers. It's danced with a narrative emphasis - as if, as in Bharata Natyam solos, each gesture had a recognised meaning.

Jeyasingh overloads the dance with those nearly-explanatory gestures, but she doesn't actually tell a story. The dancers regroup, and seem to switch characters, or shift from hero to narrator. I don't think there was a combat between Tancredi and Clorinda, though there was a bold conflict between two of the men, stalking and jumping in a circle. Then they faded back into the narrative chatter. Like the rest of Transtep, Jeyasingh's Tancredi is ultimately undone by its weak organisation.

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