AN EVENING with Michael Clark rarely includes much in the way of candlelight and smoochy tunes. He likes to bludgeon an audience with his music before attempting to seduce it with his movement. The new, 15-minute Yet, premiered at the Sandfield Centre in Nottingham this week, opens with a thunderous, grungy Deep Purple pastiche blasted out at head- in-the-speaker volume from an unlit stage. Through the gloom it is just possible to see Clark trying out some last-minute poses before the lights come up, and when they do, the first impression is of how astonishingly still he can be, even in a perilous leg-extended balance, despite the sonic buffeting. But the possibility of grace in a maelstrom has always been one of the key themes in Michael Clark's work, and has explained many of his stranger career decisions.

Yet is an uncharacteristically low-key comeback after a long injury, and is probably best viewed as a glimpse into the artist's sketchbook. The ideas afoot here may be worked up into a full-length show to tour in the autumn, and anyone dismayed by Clark's penchant for paraphernalia, such as dildos, feather boas and giant plastic hamburgers, should try to catch him now. There is only one prop, a handbag, descending from the sky as a deus ex machina for Clark and Antonia Franceschi to dance around. But before it arrives Clark fills the bare stage with a solo that glides seamlessly from one rigorous, joint-snapping position to the next, turning his body into its own rack, only to show how easily it stretches. Post-injury, there is an unprecedented joy in this solo.

As always there is a tension between acknowledging his ballet training and trying to move beyond it, a struggle which sometimes reveals itself by re-enacting moments in the evolution of dance, as when the deep plie rotates through 90 degrees, the bent knees lock behind each other, and for an instant he is the famous photo of Nijinsky trying to be a hieroglyph in L'Apres-Midi d'un Faune. The academic background is more obvious in the comparatively sketchy solo he has created for Antonia Franceschi, but Clark has always been one of those who choreographs better for his own body. Gestures that seem merely clumsy when he gives them to others become elegant discords in his own rendition. This is most obvious in the duet, where the pair duplicate each other's steps a beat or half a beat apart, so that he appears to force some movement on her, only to watch it coagulate slightly in the transfer. Then taking it back again he reinvigorates it and flourishes it like a conjurer's handkerchief. This is another, perhaps unbidden, strand in Michael Clark's popularity. Even in dance as pure and unambiguous as this, strains of mockery, decadence and cruelty begin to emerge, as Clark switches from sneering Giapetto to mocking Pinocchio with the shrug of a laconic shoulder.

By contrast, La Ribot, who performed at Sandfield on a double bill with Clark, seems almost nostalgically innocent, despite spending nearly an hour close to naked. More Distinguished Pieces hardly comes across as a conventional dance work, but more as a series of postmodern burlesque tableaux, as if the ethos of the Windmill Theatre had survived into the age of punk. Parts of her body are intermittently covered with a range of objects including, at one point, just-taken Polaroids of those very body parts, which we and she watch develop like a 90-second puberty. In other episodes she wears angel wings, a deck chair artfully looped over her hips as a loin-cloth, and crayon marks inscribed on her body with a child's self-absorbed, self-defining fury.

There is the same fierce, childlike concentration in Julyen Hamilton's Life with Toby, performed at Jackson's Lane community centre in London. Hamilton is devoted to the idea that all creativity is a form of improvisation. The long collaboration between the five dancers in the present company creates a hermetic world peopled with intensely realised and yet somehow embryonic personae. Lighting designer Svante Grogarn also takes part in the improvisational process, and his subtle shadowings and slabs of acid brilliance, imprisoning or hypnotising the dancers, almost make up a separate cast in their own right.

Jenny Gilbert is away.

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