Dance: Full of Far Eastern promise

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Indy Lifestyle Online
An obvious advantage of a PR operation like that for Joaqun Cortes (see above) is that both punters and critics know what they're getting, give or take the hype. The good things that come in small packages are harder to sift from the pile. Take the Re-Orient season of contemporary dance from South-east Asia running at The Place this week - a welcome chance to clear up any misplaced notions about the cultures that (given their countries' rising economic status) may soon have an impact on ours. The artists come from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and China, whose burgeoning contemporary art forms, far from imitating Western models, draw on traditional oriental styles, coloured by the street wisdom of urban, industrial lives.

Wednesday's Japanese double bill began appealingly with a piece called Two Meatballs. Here was humour that we round-eyes could relate to, in dance that was not only fun, but supremely stylish and immaculately brought off. Aki Nagatani and Kim Itoh share the same androgynous shape and porcelain, heart-shaped features. But Aki (a she) sports a Burlington Bertie tramp-coat and ginger wig, and Kim (a he) a black eye-patch and shaven scalp, with a bootlace pigtail cheekily sprouting from the middle. To a musical sequence ranging from rock (David Byrne) to Fifties samba, the pair darted nimbly about the space, as sure-footed in reverse as in fast-forward. He especially, with his whippy little hips, balletic bounce and the hypnotically liquid hand-movements of a conjurer, had the audience hooting for more. It was the cheeriest 15 minutes of dance I've ever had the pleasure to watch.

Pity it was short, for the evening's other piece, inscrutably titled The Oblique Line and Creak, was obscure, self-indulgent and at least half an hour too long. Its creator, Kota Yamazaki, has choreographed on the catwalk for Issey Miyake, and sartorial flair carries the piece for a while - he in well-cut, grey silk business suit, his partner, the petite Yoki Morimoto, in tight, oxblood leathers from head to toe. But the techno score had all the aural thrill of a Mitsubishi components factory, a grating deadness that even Morimoto's graceful athleticism could not relieve. The oblique line of the title presumably referred to the dancers' relative positions. They didn't look at each other once. The so-called aesthetics of gazing - so crucial to Japanese behaviour - was clearly a theme, but for the life of me I couldn't decipher it.

Eyes straight ahead was the order of the day at another of London's offbeat dance attractions, an "installation" in a darkened Victorian Sunday school in Islington. Say a Little Prayer, devised by Rene Eyre and Chris Nash, sends the itinerant viewer on a tour of grim 19th-century family memories, detailed in diaries secreted about the place in a maze of niches and galleries, and in flickery video and audio fragments like random clippings from a cutting-room floor. The tour is made more mysterious by a groping darkness and tall screens draped with gruesome synthetic tresses of dark hair. How the piece was "interactive" I did not discover. Someone suggested you had to stand on a certain spot to activate something. I did and nothing happened. There wasn't any dance either. That turned out to be an add-on extra, later in the week. Dance is finding new byways for itself. One must have patience.

Joaqun Cortes: Royal Albert Hall, SW7 (0171 589 8212), 3pm & 7.45pm today, returns only.

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