First Night: Elements inspire unusual zest

Siobhan Davies Dance Company Oxford Playhouse
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The Independent Online
SIOBHAN DAVIES'S decision to create a full-evening work sounded momentous, where with other, brasher choreographers it would have seemed merely interesting. Had this quiet specialist of the 30-minute form - so subtle, so considered, so perfectionist in the way she sifts her material - suddenly and incredibly gone wild? Of course not, even if that adjective formed half of the piece's title.

Why did she want to make Wild Air? To meet the fresh challenge of sustaining her ideas and manipulating her momentum over a longer time-span. But, as always, her choreography meshes with the other stage components to produce a delicately calibrated, self-sufficient world.

Solos and ensembles form layers that often overlap, often fragment inside David Buckland's futuristic setting of sliding corrugated panels. Peter Mumford's lighting makes moody shifts from electric blue or turquoise to the grey of a soft dusk, and sometimes you see mysteriously projected revolving shapes - a prism, a chair.

Kevin Volans has produced one of his most beautiful dance scores, written for two cellos and two guitars, and played live. It alternates heavy chords with syncopated staccatos and ravishing adagios.

Perhaps the "air" of the title is a musical melody. Perhaps, given Volans' South African homeland, he and Davies had in mind wild expanses where the noise of grass and creatures travel on the wind.

It seemed that the dancers had individual characteristics, like different species of animal. Paul Old is a confident explorer of the air around him, he moves with sinuous emphasis. Matthew Morris is all abrupt twists and changes of direction, a foil for Sarah Warsop's calm, reflective outlines. Four women dip and pace in unison as if they are a flock of flamingos.

Sometimes the dancers freeze, in an equivalent of the music's silent spaces. And now they are frozen in my memory, the eight of them, all consummately skilled.

Wild Air tours for the next four weeks, and resumes in the autumn, including to London.