Sadler’s Wells present these five original works as an evening of British-Chinese cultural collaboration, but while full of beautiful moments, the evening falls short of this advertised purpose. Choreographers Russell Maliphant and Christopher Wheeldon each present two pieces, while Edwaard Liang presents one. The same four internationally renowned dancers perform all five pieces: the two women, Yuan Yuan Tan and Fang-Yi Sheu, are Chinese dancers; Damian Smith is Australian; and Clifton Brown is American. The artists involved are the only through-line of the evening: the choreographers worked individually, and the event does not hang together as a whole.

Chinese choreographer Liang’s piece Finding Light opens the evening, but is strangely echoed by Wheeldon’s After the Rain, billed third. The performances feature the same two dancers – Tan and Smith – performing very similar choreography. The only memorable difference arose from the lighting design. Wheeldon’s duet was originally performed on an outdoor platform on a beach at sunset, which is mimicked by a pinkish glow emanating from the back wall, whereas Liang’s begins with a sharply defined rectangle of white light. The relationship displayed in both of these works has a touching – almost infantile – innocence about it. Tan is a like doll in Smith’s grasp. The pieces also share an aesthetic focus – Smith supports Tan through stunning pose after stunning pose while she moves fluidly around him or drapes herself across him. The pair perform with a delicate softness, but both pieces lack any sense of deeper feelings: an established story is foregone in favour of a sense of newness and exploration within a young relationship. Both are sweet, loving pieces, but lack variation and originality: having just seen Finding Light, After the Rain seemed all too familiar. This is just one indication of the lack of the collaboration that the evening was intended to showcase.

Wheeldon’s second piece, Five Movements, Three Repeats, was hard to grasp, featuring nine sections each separated by short breaks in which the audience was unsure whether to applaud or not. In the opening section, Sheu begins spotlit, curling her arms like a motion-capture fern unfurling, and arching her body as if recoiling from a punch in the stomach in Matrix-style slow motion. The three remaining dancers appear out of the darkness, moving with an air of self-absorption reminiscent of a rehearsal studio warm-up. Playful variations of this section repeat: once fully lit, once reset facing the opposite direction, and so on. Between these variations were four short pieces which showcased some brilliant choreography. This strangely eclectic work was wonderfully conceived, but the technical shortcomings detracted from its success and typified the evening’s overall difficulty in communicating to its audience.

Maliphant’s two pieces, PresentPast and Two x Two were for me the outstanding works of the evening, with strong design elements complementing clean choreography. PresentPast is a solo choreographed on Sheu with two distinct halves. It begins with slow, languorous movements, but every so often there is a quick change as the pace increases or her confidence falters, before a return to self-indulgence. There comes a significant change of music and lighting: the soft warm glow changes to a sharply defined oval at the front of the stage, criss-crossed with lines like a ball of string, and the soundtrack switches from classical to electronic. Sheu’s movement becomes frantic: she is desperate, trapped within the lit space. As her arms move quickly beneath the spaghetti lighting, we see her explosive limbs as if in stop-motion frames like a series of Muybridge images moving too fast. The effect is breathtaking.

In Two x Two, which closed the evening, Tan and Sheu echo one another, their angular movements occasionally coming into unison with striking clarity before returning to frenzied madness. Lit from above by two cage-like boxes of white light, only the two dancers’ shoulders and arms are visible. As the lighting changes, the dancers are gradually enclosed in a square border of light; the lit edges catch their feet and hands as they move, razor-like, through the small space. Andy Cowton’s ominous electronic music gradually intensifies, ramping up the tension toward an abrupt, powerful end to the evening.

The two Chinese dancers hugged between final bows: the event is in part a showcase of these two renowned Chinese dancers, and they both performed well throughout. Tan is constantly well balanced and controlled, her long legs extending infinitely into the space. But Sheu is by far the outstanding performer of the event, vivid and dynamic, where Tan is delicate and a little passive. Despite strong performances from these two dancers, however, the aspect of cultural collaboration is largely missing from the event as a whole: the five pieces are an eclectic mixture, and each contain excellent moments, but they don’t add up to anything more.