In the past 10 years, Russell Maliphant's career has taken off. Collaborations with Sylvie Guillem have brought him awards and an international profile. Two: Four: Ten is a retrospective, focused on earlier work, but showing little change in Maliphant's style. In all four pieces, dancers wind around each other under Michael Hulls's shadowy lighting. It's an evening with plenty of polish and almost no contrast.
Maliphant's intimate duets and solos often look better in smaller theatres. To fill the huge Coliseum, he's brought in a starry guest cast. No Sylvie this time, but his dancers include Adam Cooper, English National Ballet's Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur and The Royal Ballet's Ivan Putrov. These are charismatic performers, but it's surprising how similar they look in Maliphant's choreography.
Knot, created in 2001, starts with glimpses of dancers. On a dark stage, a golden spotlight picks out Putrov, then Daniel Proietto. A few flashes in, the lighting steadies to show the two men dancing, swinging loose limbs. Gradually, their fluid moves bring them together for some partnering.
This is the pattern for all these dances. Maliphant starts small, a single movement often isolated further by Hulls's flashes of warm, dim light. Steps build up to longer, flowing phrases. If it's a duet, the two will take a while to dance together. When, in Critical Mass, Cooper and Maliphant slip into a modified tango, they won't be doing the footwork or the sharply-turned heads.
The dancing is always poised, never surprising. Drawing on yoga, Tai Chi and capoeira, as well as his ballet and contemporary dance background, Maliphant has created a distinctive but narrow style. Nobody is going to be extrovert, or angular, or funny in a Maliphant dance.
Maliphant's most important collaboration is with Hulls, who shapes the look of most of these dances. Agnes Oaks and Thomas Edur dance Sheer, another dance from 2001. They start in silhouette. The lights come up enough to show the tops of their heads, to pick out a cheekbone or a nose, never full face.
Two puts its dancer in a box of light, face in shadow while moving arms and feet catch the light. In this performance, it's danced as a double solo for Proietto and Dana Fouras, with a light box each. Their solos are linked, not identical, but the contrasts are very, very slight. There's more variety in Critical Mass, a male duet from 1998. Cooper and Maliphant stop and start; there's a few touches of individual personality. But it's not enough to lift an accomplished evening out of blandness.