FINE ART is not an obvious jumping-off point for dance. Painters might find any number of ingenious techniques to suggest movement in the human figure, but ultimately dancers looking for inspiration are stuck with the fact that it doesn't budge from the canvas. That hasn't deterred Lea Anderson, the art-school-trained director of the cultish, blokeish dance group The Featherstonehaughs (pronounced Fanshores). Over the 10 years she's been choreographing for the company, Anderson has evolved a working method that begins with making a scrapbook of images, be they drawings, postcards, magazines ads, even bits of packaging. Thus it was only a short step to using someone else's collectings, viz, The Featherstonehaughs Draw Upon the Sketchbooks of Egon Schiele, the extra- ordinary show which opened the Spring Loaded festival at The Place.

Everyone knows Schiele's sinewy, hollow-eyed nudes, the student- bedroom poster of choice for those who've just discovered sex. At least Anderson hopes everyone knows Schiele, because her 60-minute sequence of animated poses - what she calls "the lost dances" of the anatomical sketchbooks - depends on recognition for its effect. Sleeping limbs entangled in a blanket; painfully twisted torsos; gnarled, outstretched hands; desperate grimaces, eroticism without apparent pleasure - all appear in Anderson's carefully crafted sequence of "pictures", which sometimes pass by dreamily, like slide projections, and sometimes are speeded-up and frantic, like flick-book animation. The nudity is cleverly handled by designer Sandy Powell by cladding the guys top-to-toe in 15- denier flesh-toned tights, with muscly bits and bony bits and genitalia painted on in Schiele-esque daubs.

Less erotic - but curiously, more disturbing - is the dancers' first appearance in three-piece suits (the Fans have always made a feature of natty tailoring) - which gives the six men's neurotic contortions the added desperation of strained seams. The suits come in colours and textures lifted straight from Schiele's canvases: fleshy puce, bile green, nightmare mauve. And the Expressionist vision is further enhanced by facial warpaint which glows luridly under neon lights. Followers of the Fans' shows may be surprised to find so little humour in this one, though there are odd moments off drollery, as when a nude writhing on a mattress is suddenly whisked out of sight by the ankles, as if to say "That's enough of that!" The Expressionist painters themselves didn't find life amusing, it has to be said. But the nervy precision of the movement and the emotional charge it packs makes up for any paucity of wit. The Featherstonehaughs have delivered one of those rare experiences that goes on reverberating long after the event.

I'm sorry not to be able to claim the same for Northern Ballet Theatre's Hunchback of Notre Dame, the latest three-act story ballet from a company that has proved admirably undaunted by the demands of original work on this scale. To begin with, Hunchback augured well. Victor Hugo's story was a good choice for NBT's brand of popular dance theatre. It offers an overtly sexy heroine, and a meaty fistful of male roles: gallant Captian Phoebus, the louche poet Gringoire, a lustful archdeacon, and a grotesque antihero with a heart of gold. Though Michael Pink's choreography can hardly be described as innovative, he does give each of these protagonists an identifying motif. There are heroic jetes for the favoured Captain, violent lunges for the odious churchman, and even - touchingly - at the moment when Quasimodo erupts with joy at Esmeralda's kiss, some sparks of inspiration as his poor misshapen body mimics the clapper in a bell.

But Pink cannot resist filling out the ballet with so many different choruses of townspeople, beggars, skirt-shakers and fist-brandishers that you soon give up trying to distinguish who's who in the medieval maelstrom. It was surely a mistake to divide the story into 20 scenes, some of which do more to obscure the plot than lead it forward. But these at least show off the ingenuity of Lez Brotherston's sets: grimy timbered shacks abutting a massive, gargoyle-strewn chunk of the great cathedral, which with the help of Paul Pyant's rose-window filtered lighting, works beautifully for indoors and out.

But the busy-busyness of the plot sends composer Philip Feeney into a whirl of multiple personalities. One minute he's Prokofiev, another he's Tchaikovsky (but without the big tunes), then we get a scene of Carmina Burana with shrieking female choirs. Feeney hits his stride at the end of Act II, when stage action, choreographic invention and music suddenly concur in a soaring love duet which reaches its climax just as the jealous archdeacon leaps out from the shadows and stabs the captain, leaving Esmeralda to face the noose. It makes five minutes of hair-bristling drama which the production never again manages to match.

Dance Bites, The Royal Ballet's annual tour of new work to the provinces, has taken flak in previous years for fielding too much obscure experimental stuff and not enough stars to not enough venues. The last complaint is remedied this year, with two programmes sent out on different routes. And the one I caught in Dartford showed a fine balance of material, ranging from a revival of Kenneth MacMillan's Las Hermanas, based on Lorca's suffocating play The House of Bernarda Alba, to Christopher Wheeldon's grandly-tutued pas de quatre set to Beethoven's variation on "God Save the King". The crowd- pleaser was William Tuckett's charming Puirt-a-Beul, which brings open- chested balletic leaps to the skittish footwork of Celtic dance, under the influence of the quite delicious solo mouth music known as "diddling" (as in diddly-eye-de-dye-de-doh). Ashley Page produced another of his stylish street scenes in When We Stop Talking - whose barely repressed violence brought to mind a Reservoir Dogs reunion during London Fashion Week. It was too long, but otherwise a stunning confirmation of his position as company choreographer-in-waiting.

Featherstonehaughs: Brighton Gardner Ctr (01273 685861), Tues; Mansfield Palace (01623 633133), Thurs; Cambridge Arts (01223 503333), Fri. Dance Bites II: Darlington Civic (01325 486555), Tues & Wed; Northampton Derngate (01604 24811), Thurs-Sat. 'Hunchback of Notre Dame': Nottingham Theatre Royal (0115 948 2626), Tues-Sat.

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