Bunty Matthias isn't the first choreographer to boost her profile with the help of a few trendy friends. That the London performances of her latest show, You Want My Wont, sold out in advance should be regarded as evidence of nothing more than the pulling power of over-hyped names: Matthias's audience certainly included as many admirers of her collaborators as people who were there for the choreographer's contribution. And while a full house isn't to be sneered at, it doesn't necessarily follow that Jazzie B / Soul II Soul fans have been converted to dance.
Attempting to locate dance within a living framework of modern culture and street style is a valid pursuit. Indeed, this is one of the reasons for the enduring popular appeal of Michael Clark's choreography. But Clark is in a different league from most of his contemporaries: whereas the whiplash energy of his earliest works captured all the disaffection and anti-Establishment gruffness of punk rock, Matthias simply tacks a rather navel-gazing brand of Nineties dance on to a soundtrack of mind-numbing monotony. And although she displays some skill in transposing the movement, music and fashions of clubland to the proscenium stage, the sum of her parts doesn't add up to much more than some well-organised, ultra-cool posing.
Matthias has claimed that the work explores and harbours images of female sexuality - not that you would know that unless you'd succumbed to the overflow of pre-performance publicity, or drawn literal conclusions from the work's protracted episodes of rather wimpish hip-gyrating. In the opening tableau three men lull about in the foreground while, rooted to a plinth situated behind a large, wire-mesh screen, Matthias and another woman shape the surrounding space.
In the opposite corner, two women standing atop tin pedestals twist long drapes of fabric around their heads. Matthias slowly cranks up the energy level, but her choreography has all the untransformed, static narcissism and empty action of an evening with Bill T Jones (the American with whom she danced in the late Eighties). Her faades are considerably more attractive than Jones's and New RenaisCAnce's costumes - silver, mohairy minis and baggy wrap-around trousers - animate the whole picture. But You Want My Wont is pop-video territory in which the performers jog on personal trampolines and strolling diva Efua Baker delivers lines like "My happy smile / My sense of style / My Italian marble tiles" with a kind of weary arrogance which tips into an ironic detachment perfectly matched by the drop-dead bored expressions of Matthias and her dancers.
On the other side of the Thames, at Covent Garden, Peter Wright's production of Giselle offers some brisk tragedy (it's all over in less than two and a half hours) coupled with such reassuring examples of new Royal Ballet talent as Sarah Wildor, whose debut in the work's title role elicited well-deserved roars of approval from Saturday's matinee audience.
Wildor's dancing is shot through with an extraordinarily lucid intelligence. It's an open demonstration of the veracity of thought and feeling that generates all meaningful movement, and it has a lightness of touch that makes her perfectly, hauntingly ethereal in Act 2. More than just a bonny innocent who is betrayed by a man who can never be hers, Wildor's Giselle not only shows us her dual passions - Albrecht (Zoltan Solymosi) and dancing - but the destructive and restorative forces of those passions.
n The Royal Ballet performs `Giselle' on 7, 8, 17, 21 and 25 Mar. Box- office: 0171-304 4000
n The `Spring Loaded' season of dance, which included `You Want My Wont', continues at The Place theatre from 21 Feb. Box-office: 0171-387 0031Reuse content