Dance Umbrella 2012, Central St Martins, London Swan Lake, Royal Opera House, London

Being hip is all very well, but you need a bit of red blood too

Jenny Gilbert
Saturday 13 October 2012 18:11
Still life: Electric Midwife by Beth Gill, at Dance Umbrella 2012
Still life: Electric Midwife by Beth Gill, at Dance Umbrella 2012

It makes perfect sense to hold a contemporary dance season on a fashion campus. Central St Martins is the hip, newly merged creative arts university whose plate-glass-and-granite premises, behind King's Cross Station, have only recently emerged from the scaffolding. Dance is in thrall to fashion just as much as clothing and product design are, and to judge by this year's Dance Umbrella edit, it too is undergoing a Seventies and early-Eighties moment.

Which is to say that "dance" is presented as something to be pondered and picked at Ω more concept, less elan. Counting to One Hundred, for instance, involves two middle-aged baldies (choreographer Jonathan Burrows and composer Matteo Fargion) sitting on chairs and, yes, counting out loud, albeit with physical interpolations including an action suggesting one man taking the other's blood pressure.

More dancey but even more anaemic was New Yorker Beth Gill's group piece Electric Midwife, inspired by identical twins, two sets of them featuring among the all-female cast. In terms of symmetry, the piece was a veritable Rorschach blot-test of matched angles and curves. But, oh my, it was slow. Of its 45 minutes, 10 passed in motionless silence, unless you count the mental whir from audience rebels weighing up the chances of an early getaway.

Carbon-dating dance, then, is an inexact science. Didn't this kind of dogged formalism have a run for its money in the 1970s? Nonetheless, in last week's column it was careless of your critic to describe Richard Alston's new piece, Isthmus, as a revival from 1985, and then, worse, draw unflattering conclusions. For the record then, Alston's best work is clearly not behind him, since Isthmus (created earlier this year) is as snappy and clear-eyed as anything in his 40-year career.

If, on paper, Kevin O'Hare's choice of Swan Lake to launch his first season as the Royal Ballet's director looked retrograde, in the event it was astute, displaying the company's star-power, its corps, and even fledgelings from the RB School, at the life-enhancing peak of their powers. If you only ever see one Swan Lake in your life, see this.

Dance Umbrella: ends today ( 'Swan Lake': to 26 Nov (020-7304 4000), broadcast live to cinemas on 23 Oct

Critic's Choice

Rambert heads up its autumn season with a new work, Labyrinth of Love, by Marguerite Donlon, flanked by a rare revival of the late Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance, and the more lyrical effusions of Paul Taylor’s Roses. At Sadler’s Wells, London (Tue to Sat), then touring.

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