16 FEBRUARY 2002, Page 50

Royal Ballet (Clore Studio Upstairs)

Creative chances

Giannandrea Pomo

Ai eminent scholar once defined choreography as an 'intimate act', implying that there was more to it than just matching steps to music. The full meaning of her statement, alas, has seldom been appreciated, and today's dance culture has been greatly affected by such misunderstanding. In particular, it is the art of ballet that now suffers from an almost complete lack of great dancemakers, despite an often frenzied search for new masters. Indeed, a lot has been done to fill the various gaps, and it is undeniable that all the great companies are doing their best to nurture and promote home-grown talents in the hope of finding new choreographic geniuses. Such a strategy has long been and luckily still is one of the strongest, though seldompraised points of the Royal Ballet's artistic policy, as demonstrated by the performance seen last week at the Clore Studio Upstairs.

Few institutions at international level go as far as the Royal in providing their own dancers with the chance of experimenting with their creative skills in a dedicated space with first-rate interpreters selected from the company's ranks. And, as everyone knows, there is only one way to test someone's choreographic ability, namely to expose the finished product to a paying audience — even though on the first of the two nights this included a large number of supportive colleagues and some enthusiastically noisy relatives and friends. The only snag is that, given the experimental objectives of the performance, the evening might not necessarily be one to remember.

Last week, two Royal Ballet dancers presented a composite bill that provided the expert as well as the lay dancegoer with food for thought. Neither Vanessa Fenton nor Alastair Marriott, members of the Royal Ballet, are new to the art of dancemaking, and their knowledge of the craft is clearly evident in the clean-cut way they constructed each of the four pieces in the programme.

Of the two, Fenton can be said to be the most faithful to the classical vocabulary, as was particularly evident in the opening dance, Frozen. Set to an intriguing selection of music by Henry Purcell, the work draws upon solutions stemming from the purest classical tradition, interpolated here and there with now humorous, now unexpected choices. The juxtaposition between the more formalist classicism of ballet and moments taken from a less codified physical language ties in fluidly with the now classical, now innovatively humorous qualities of the selected music. Yet, the experiment does not develop as much as it could have, and the whole work ends up looking too much like an exercise in style rather than a finished, provocative dance. Even the sequence of words that light up at the beginning of different sections does not contribute much to the metaphorical content of the danced action and ends up looking like a nice but superfluous and dramatically void theatrical trick.

A similar problem is encountered in Knots, a work that Fenton uses as part of a work-based degree she is currently undertaking. Although the action creates a more defined dramatic tension, the movement vocabulary remains too attached to the canons of what could be referred to as 20th-century balletic neo-classicism so does

not match the technological devices used at the back of the stage. Consequently, the action remains boldly on two separate and annoyingly independent levels.

A more consistent dramatic flow as well as a more individually defined vocabulary are found in Marriott's Night Falls Fast and Grey Garden. It's a pity that both works rely too much on a rather debatable neoexpressionistic content, which, in each instance, often slips into superficial narrative sensationalism. All in all, the evening revealed that, despite the craft, the two young choreographers need to broaden their knowledge of dance, in order not to remain stuck with familiar formulae. They also need to be guided, supervised and directed by someone who knows what is beyond the boundaries of the dance repertoire and the dance culture they are used to. So, is there a choreographer out there? Maybe ...