the arts: Stranger in the House

Fresh controversy is about to hit the revamped Royal Opera House, as classically trained dancers from the Royal Ballet team up with the avante-garde choreographer Siobhan Davies
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normous, gigantic, it's like a small city." Even Siobhan Davies, doyenne of British contemporary dance, seems overwhelmed by the scale of the revamped Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, which opens officially today. As a child Davies was inspired by watching Margot Fonteyn and Svetlana Berlosova perform here. Now she is briefly stepping out of the independent circuit to choreograph a new 30-minute piece for the House, working not with her own regular company, but with dancers from The Royal Ballet. "Because they are classically trained they use their bodies in a much grander, gestural fashion," she notes. "Their weight is `high', they go up on pointes, whereas most of my work is in trying to get some kind of relationship down, through the ground." The title of the piece, A Stranger's Taste, refers in part to this meeting of divergent cultures. "I am to some extent a stranger here," says Davies, "and I am bringing my knowledge into here and seeing what happens."

For Davies, a work is created through the process of rehearsal, in this case four intensive weeks, with the other elements of music, design (by her partner David Buckland), lighting and costume gradually coming into play. There is no narrative as such. "The reason some people believe they're missing the point with modern dance," says Davies, "is that they think, `I should at any time in this piece be able to tell myself what's going on.' And I quite like the idea that you can't. I think there are moments in which words and thoughts will spring to the mind of anyone watching, but there are times in which people will only think about energy and dynamics, or the beauty of the design. I want all of these things to come together." And have they? Will they? "Well, it was rather frightening," admits Davies, "especially when you're working with new people. But it was odd, after two or three days of rehearsal it didn't feel frightening at all, it felt absolutely fascinating."

`A Stranger's Taste', part of `A Celebration of International Choreography', can be seen in repertory at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, from 8 December to 29 January 2000 (0171-304 4000).