Dodging bombs on the way to the practice studio is not most dancers' idea of keeping fit. The miracle of Beirut's Caracalla Dance Theatre is not so much what it does on stage, as that it has managed to do it all. For almost the entire 15 years of Lebanon's vicious civil war the company has continued to rehearse and perform, braving whatever boundary lines - Christian, Muslim or Druze - its touring schedule decreed, and becoming in the process a cultural force for hope over despair, for creativity in the teeth of destruction. Abdul-Halim Caracalla and his troupe belong to that breed we don't see around much any more: true heroes.

It was important to keep this in mind when the company presented its latest show for a week's run at the Peacock. For Caracalla's brand of dance drama relies more on energy than subtlety, and Elissa, Queen of Carthage - the original story of Dido - is more obviously designed to feed Lebanese cultural pride than Londoners' picky artistic appetites. As the Lebanese Prime Minister put it in the programme: "Abdul-Halim Caracalla with his revolution of novelty spreads wonder amongst people and implants joy in their souls." As long as you left your wet-November prejudices at the door, that's exactly what it did.

Like a blast of hot, cinnamon-laden air from a Middle Eastern kitchen, the show opens in a swirl of glittery turbans, feather-trimmed cloaks and incense, as a fruity voice-over demands: "Open, O Book of Time!" Then follows a snaky solo from a genie in a metallic bra-top (hip-twitching isn't only for the girls) and the unfolding of the historic tale. This is patently not the Dido that Purcell had laid in earth.

Caracalla's style is a fluent mix of Martha Graham and Middle Eastern folk gestures, the latter "collected" from villages over a wide area with a view to concocting a theatrical dance style that will justify the tag "Lebanese". Though limited in emotional nuance and prone to stray arm- wafting, Caracalla's choreography is a model of narrative clarity and moves at a cracking pace. There is lively humour in a cartoon-style chase with grunting, high-stepping thugs in pursuit of Elissa's graceful womenfolk, and stunning, stylised sequences for the choruses of gods, slaves and warriors, who perform more and swifter costume changes than seems physically possible.

But the real whoopee-making comes in the modern-day finale, a rural Lebanese wedding knees-up complete with embarrassing relatives, compere, and Arabic jokes which set the Embassy officials in the audience hooting. Con brio, even con fuoco would be too bland a marking for what Caracalla brings to the stage. To borrow again the immortal words of the Lebanese PM, Elissa is "an artful work ... written with the sweat of distinguishment". If a company can produce uplift like this in time of war, great things are in prospect for peace.

To the choreographer Yolande Snaith the idea of telling a story is a foreign country. Her last work, Swinger, spouted the semiotics of Roland Barthes; the latest, Gorgeous Creatures, is historical-hysterical comedy: a kind of choreographed Blackadder, complete with impish Virgin Queen, fawning courtiers and wacky props. Quite what is going on at any point of the show's 85 minutes is anyone's guess. What Snaith is good at is creating subversive unease. Here she plays Elizabeth R as a nine-foot loo-roll cosy whose red, ruched-nylon crinoline proves equally useful for laying out games of patience and secreting naked men. Other inspired visual gags include an Alice-like appearance at three-foot tall and a bizarre accident with a lace ruff. Stranger still, the star of the show is not the dance itself - which is sparse - but Barnaby Stone's designer furniture which is danced under, around and upon. It struck me only on the way home that the title could be referring to that curvy blond-wood chaise and chunky three-legged commode. Gorgeous creatures indeed.

Yolande Snaith: Dartington Hall (01803 863073), 25 Nov; Portsmouth Arts Ctr (01705 837373), 27 Nov.

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