Dance : Not exactly glad to be gay

THE POSTER shows a man with his head in a polythene bag, features pressed flat in an ugly, ecstatic gasp. You read that this is a dancer who treats his own body like a lump of meat. Yet nothing can prepare you for the experience of Nigel Charnock. It's not the obscenity that's shocking, nor the lack of dance, but the exposure of Nigel himself: Nigel unzipped, Nigel unbound, Nigel's very existence arrayed on a slab. It is not a pretty sight, but it's riveting.

Hell Bent is the last part of a trilogy of experimental solo works created by Charnock since he left DV8 Physical Theatre (think "deviate") five years ago. It was there that he developed his ideas on non-aesthetic dance - for him, making beautiful shapes and patterns with the body got in the way of meaning. Now he has gone a step further, and introduced spoken text. Or rather, he lets his tongue do most of the dancing.

Words pour from him like slops from a bucket. "I am not enough I am not enough I'm not tall enough I'm not thin enough I'm not fat enough I'm not fascinating enough or famous enough or young enough old enough white or black enough blue enough true enough wild mild flirty dirty cuddly snuggly bitchy kitschy titty or witty enough . . ." - out it comes, a Joycean thesaurus of alternatives for the way he feels. We can believe all or none of it. What comes across is the aching, yearning hopelessness of being - and specifically of being Nigel Charnock.

There is a storyline, and this is the weak part. A young gay man (Charnock) is jilted in a letter by his lover. He works nights as a transvestite, belting out Shirley Bassey numbers and porn-dancing in a shiny black dress. By day he mooches about his shabby bedsit wondering where, when and if he will ever find true love. Finally, he tops himself. This sounds awful, and in a way it is, but Charnock's public honesty burns through it like a lit fuse.

The explosions, when they happen, are sometimes verbal, sometimes physical. At one point Charnock hurls himself repeatedly to the floor, bouncing up each time in order to deliver another flesh-battering blow - 20, 30 times. The effect is shattering. Another climax takes the form of a speeded- up charade, Charnock assigning one action per word ("man", "woman", "hate", "love") and working them into an increasingly frenetic sequence of statements that make your head spin. He can dance beautifully, but beauty rarely serves his purpose - except in one sequence on a bed, when (presumably dreaming) Charn-ock "dances" in slow motion on his back with a large crucifix for a partner, striking poses from Old Masters.

Charnock's material is too explicit and his homosexual view too particular ever to find a wide audience. Yet in 85 minutes he communicates something essential about the human condition. The slogan "Glad to be gay" has never seemed less appropriate.

The appeal of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, meanwhile, knows no bounds. The company spent the week at Sadler's Wells, its former home, showcasing the breadth of its work under its soon-to-retire director, Sir Peter Wright. The triple bill was such a rich and varied feast that it seemed almost greedy to have it all at one sitting.

Matthew Hart's Street (1993), a work strongly influenced by the feel, rather than the choreography of West Side Story, made the lightest fare. Ballet and boogie-woogie are an odd mix, and despite the elasticity of the dancing with its hip-thrusts and Seventies-disco gestures, it felt uneasy. Putting sleazy alley-cats on points has no point.

Balanchine's Prodigal Son is the last of the works made for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, and BRB's production captures its 1920s exoticism. Michael O'Hare makes a splendidly virile tearaway, portraying extreme youth in quick and glancing movements, and leaps so high you suspect a hidden springboard. Monica Zamora's Siren is weirdly alluring in veined tights and a long cerise train that she ties and unties repeatedly around her thighs to allow movement. Balanchine knew a bit about tasteful titillation.

Finally, Pineapple Poll, the G&S romp devised by John Cranko for the Festival of Britain, summed up the joy of this Best of British company. When David Bintley takes over in August he will inherit a group at the peak of its crowd-pleasing powers.

Nigel Charnock: Drill Hall, WC1, 071-637 8270, to 26 Feb.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935