Thinking on your feet doesn't always work

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Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Peacock Theatre

BILL T JONES is a very fluent speaker - but not necessarily intelligible. His latest work involves far less text than many of his earlier pieces but it still has a programme note.

The leaflet accompanying Bill T Jones' We Set Out Early... Visibility Was Poor (cryptic enough in itself, surely) tells us: "One of the work's goals is to invent a strategy whereby the dilemma of memory confronts our need for continuity." No-one imagines dance should be about anything, but if the choreographer says it is, we tend to demand some correlation between the artist's intention and what happens on stage.

Jones' plan to explore human emotion, social change, artistic development via the metaphor of a journey was perhaps unachievable. As dance, it was an attractive, occasionally exquisite response to his chosen music (Stravinsky, Cage and Vasks), but as philosophy it was unreadable.

There were compensations. Jones dancers range in size and shape from the rangy splendour of Germaul Barnes to the hugely unexpected Alexandra Beller, who is more Beryl Cook than Beryl Grey. The 10 dancers don't look alike or dress alike and they tread the elegant space mapped out by Bjorn G Amelan with steps that seem to speak two languages simultaneously.

During the work's three sections, the dancers make their journey along and around a diagonal path, which runs across the stage. The Stravinsky segment was composed of conventional groups and solos, but by the third section, the ideas and relationships had fragmented.

A woman skips to greet her lover, then rewinds to the wings repeatedly, like a recurring dream. Periodically, a member of the ensemble was picked out in a flickering beam. Why?

Then came The Pod. Made of rumpled cream silk and shaped like a vast, luminous woodlouse, this strange chrysalis progressed slowly across the backcloth. Suddenly, everyone wore grey. If there is a meaning it didn't appear to be one that Jones' dance could convey.

The curtain calls were led by Jones himself, a shamelessly perky sequence of synchronised jumps and shouts. It was a masterly bit of audience manipulation, but it seemed strange that the closest engagement with the audience should take place after the show was over.

We Set Out Early... Visibility Was Poor, final performance tonight, Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, London WC2 (0171 314 8800).

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