Reviews: Lights, smoke, action

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Dance: Yolande Snaith and Richard Alston

Place Theatre and QEH

The Place Theatre is the spiritual home of the passive smoker. Everyone in the bar (mostly dance students with a death wish) seems to be smoking two Marlboro Lights simultaneously as they crowd round the doors to the auditorium to grab one of the unnumbered seats.

On Tuesday night the smoke was just as bad inside the theatre because Yolande Snaith was conducting a human sacrifice. Her latest piece, Blind Faith, is an exploration of the whole business of superstition and belief. It takes place on Barnaby Stone's red carpeted set which is dominated by a large table - part altar, part mortuary slab - draped with the body of the first victim. The five panels of the table are constructed like lightboxes which can throw a spectral glow into the faces of the dancers and help contrive the painterly effects that Snaith and her lighting designer Chahine Yavroyan are looking for. As Snaith performs strange alchemical rituals with a flask and a bowl of water (dredging up memories of her Germs in 1989) the spare uplighting is pure Joseph Wright of Derby, but widen the angle a little and suddenly we're gatecrashing The Last Supper. Such characteristic tableax vivants depend heavily on design and lighting for their effects but there are beguiling moments of pure dance too. At one point Snaith herself whirls around the table scooping and carving the air with her strange fiddly fingers to the jazzy hoe-down of Graeme Miller's score. I have to say that I did fall asleep very, very briefly during the middle section which might be nature's way of telling us that it went on a bit. However, it livened up again thanks to a witty little sequence in which Snaith, in Shaman mode, manipulated the body of her victim, pulling invisible puppet strings. At the close we saw five glasses of wine each transubstantiating away in its own pool of light to remind us of the unbroken chain of ritual that links pagan superstition with more orthodox beliefs. Amen.

To judge by its audience (Matthew Bourne, Siobhan Davies, me) Richard Alston's show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was a must-see. We kicked off with Brisk Singing, a 1997 piece danced to extracts from Jean-Philippe Rameau's delicious Les Boreades written in 1764. Alston's dancers (three couples dubbed Red, Blue and Grey) had a stab at the bucolic gaiety more usually associated with Paul Taylor or Mark Morris. They carve up the space with their scything arms (an Alston signature) and frisky little kicks and jumps with the feet tucked away under the body.

Red Run is danced to the very different music of Heiner Goebbels (played live onstage by the London Sinfonietta) but the choreography seemed to have been cut from the same piece. Alston's musical taste is wide and handsome and often makes for an interesting evening's listening but he wasn't really giving us anything very new to look at. That said, the finale was well worth waiting for: a revival of his 1994 work Rumours, Visions danced to Benjamin Britten's Les Illuminations inspired by the life and work of Arthur Rimbaud and his love affair with Paul Verlaine. Rimbaud and Verlaine (exquisitely danced on Wednesday by Martin Lawrance and Henri Oguike) perform a silky pas de deux of supported falls and caressing lifts, their bodies glowing in Peter Mumford's cunning sidelights. All the dancers looked good. Dressed by Elizabeth Baker in ragged, Crusoe-esque silks, they ate up the work as if relishing this rare slice of passion and drama.

Yolande Snaith: 27 March Traverse, Edinburgh (0131-228 1404); 31 March Cambridge Junction (01223 511 511) and touring to Nottingham, Chelmsford, Wakefield and Harlow.

Richard Alston: to 7 March QEH London SE1 (0171-960 4242).

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