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Arc Dance Company - 'The Anatomy of a Storyteller'

The Dark Side

by Lyndsey Winship

November 11, 2004 -- Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London

There was a palpable frisson in the auditorium at the Linbury on Friday night, but it wasn’t so much the anticipation of Kim Brandstrup’s new work for Arc Dance Company, based on the life and work of Hans Christian Anderson, but more the fact that Pop Idol Will Young was in the audience.

Once the curtain was raised though, there was plenty to keep our attentions fixed on the stage.

Brandstrup has taken some of the revered Danish storyteller’s tales and combined them with themes and incidents from Anderson’s own life – his poor upbringing, his startling social progression and his sense of alienation from certain artistic circles, and his ambiguous sexuality.

It is a beautifully realised piece of theatre, thanks to Brandstrup’s collaborators, filmmakers The Quay Brothers and lighting designer Tina MacHugh. The stage space is transformed by images projected onto both the backdrop and a gauze across the front of the stage – ripples of water, lamp-lit streets, forests, snow and ice. It’s sparsely and sensitively done. For example, a single rocking window is all that’s needed to conjure up a boat at sea.

Rambert's Mark Baldwin recently asked Brandstrup to create a new piece for the company’s all-Mahler programme at Edinburgh. He chose the Danish choreographer because he was, in Baldwin’s opinion, the only contemporary choreographer whose work could match the emotional power of Mahler’s music. Brandstrup’s talent definitely lies in creating dance that has strong narrative and emotive qualities but lacks no integrity in its sweeping, lyrical movement.

To achieve this he needs dancers who can act as well as move, and Gildas Diquero is a fine example. In “The Shadow”, Diquero plays a character filled with echoes of the author himself. A writer falls in love with a woman he sees in a window across the street, and unable to approach her, he sends his shadow instead. But when the shadow consummates the relationship it begins to take on a life of its own, leaving the writer a mere observer and eventually just a shadow himself. Kenneth Tharp plays the stealthy shadow gaining substance while Diquero, the bewildered writer, loses his autonomy.

The intimacy of the Linbury is ideal for seeing this dramatic work. Clemmie Sveaas’s performance as the Little Mermaid is full of subtle expression. When she rescues the drowning Prince her astonished eyes are gradually transformed with wonder and delight at his presence, as their undulating bodies roll though the water.

The original story is, of course, much darker than the popular Disneyfied version. The mermaid is granted her wish to become human but the Seawitch steals her voice and slices the soles of her feet. Unable to make the Prince love her she must kill him in order to return to her mermaid self. When she can’t, she is washed away as foam on the sea.

The darker side of Anderson’s stories as well as his own life story is well captured, hanging over the stage like a cloak, and reinforced by a brooding soundtrack mixing Brahms and Schubert with music and electronics from composer Ian Dearden.

The whole company is excellent, their effortless dancing light in touch but heavy with emotion. But this piece is very much more than just the steps, it is a beautiful piece of collaborative storytelling.

Edited by Jeff.

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