Review: Chaos brought to heel

Dance: Sylvie Guillem Lucent Danstheater, The Hague
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Dance: Sylvie Guillem

Lucent Danstheater, The Hague

Are the Dutch lucky - or just clever? Sylvie Guillem, no less, agreed to open this year's Holland Dance Festival with a specially made programme never seen anywhere before. She is not a woman to sit idling between her Royal Ballet engagements. Cities as far afield as St Petersburg and Tokyo are among the many on her visiting list, and this summer she is booked to return as guest to her old company at the Paris Opera.

But new experiences are her lifeblood (hence her frequent appearances with Maurice Bejart's Lausanne company, coming away each time with a freshly created role rather than the fat fee she could normally command). And this Holland programme was seriously new; so much so that its most orthodox work was William Forsythe's Steptext - the piece with choreography, lighting and Bach music so fragmented as to alarm many Covent Garden spectators and the BBC in their Boxing Day television programme.

The Dutch, who are used to more adventurous dance than British audiences, greeted Steptext warmly. But one of the two world premieres given with it had a mixed reception: interested but puzzled applause, and two isolated boos. I would rate Classic Instinct as original but only partly successful. Guillem and her collaborator David Kern have put together a bundle of diverse activities. The most unusual are fragments of two solos from the Twenties and Thirties by the great German dancer Mary Wigman: she on screen behind the live Guillem on stage.

Advance announcements had suggested that we would see the whole Dance of Summer, but I suppose it proved impossible to reconstruct (a pity - it was Wigman's own favourite and, from her description, sounds wonderful). However, we had part of the famous masked Witch Dance, too. The same mix of live and filmed action continued throughout, applied to both formal and informal, controlled and effortful, examples of Guillem's more classical technique.

As in her own TV programme two or three years back, the most successful bits show her as a spirit of nature leaping in toe-shoes and black tutu along rough rocks. The totality remains chaotic, but I have to rejoice at a diva prepared to end a number upside down, hanging from her toes.

Informality succeeded better in the other premiere, Work No 1, a fascinating duet for Guillem and Michael Schumacher by Dana Caspersen of the Frankfurt Ballet. Both wearing white socks, no shoes and tan shorts (she with a flesh-coloured tanktop too), they seem drawn into what looks like almost accidental partnering. They fall together or apart, they are much of the time off balance; sometimes they relate but not always.

There is a relaxed but determined spirit to the piece, and Kevin Volans's song "Sweet Honey in the Rock" intermittently accompanies it at a closer or more distant focus. Difficult to imagine anyone else giving the dance the same combination of tension and playfulness, intensity and ease. In this and Steptext (where Peter Abegglen and Brian Reeder joined them), the dancers offered classic dance ready for the next century. Brave Guillem, to dare show her art moving on.

John Percival