Dance: A pinnacle of passion

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The Independent Culture


WHEN LINDSAY Kemp and Christopher Bruce teamed up in 1977 to make Rambert Dance Company's Cruel Garden, they found they had made a hit. This was dance theatre pressing all the right buttons: tragic, beautiful and vivid with, in the poet Federico Garca Lorca, a subject matter that could only win the hearts of decent-thinking people. And now, revived this year for the centenary of Lorca's birth, it still has an emotional sting, albeit weakened by a liberal sprinkling of Kemp cliches and indulgently blunt editing scissors.

Lorca was killed by the Spanish Fascists in 1936, but no one knows precisely how he died. Being art, Cruel Garden shows his murder and lingers over the horror, the dying poet tossed like a slab of meat from tormentor to tormentor, struggling defiantly to stand alone on his faltering legs before finally collapsing.

In the original staging, Bruce was the central Lorca figure who appears as matador, bride, Buster Keaton (a reference to Lorca's screen play featuring the comedian), and as melancholic white-faced poet. Last night, Conor O'Brien made a strong impact, plunging into the movement of his two major solos with a sensational intensity. As the matador, he battles with Simon Cooper's Bull, all suitably big, brutal dance shapes, later revealed as a symbol of masculine oppression and the henchman of the Franco-like Inquisitor (John Chesworth, returning to the role he created).

The piece is a clever web of metaphors and associations. It also brings us, yet again, Kemp's love affair with dry ice, green lighting and seedy, fantastical archetypes. When O'Brien comes on as the marionette bride, with her scuttling run and stiffly angled head, we might be watching Kemp himself playing a role he seems to carry from production to production without apparently getting bored. The big mistake, though, is the intrusive surrealist episode, which, like the Lorca screenplay it enacts, should have been laid to rest in a drawer.

The surrealism comes as part of a longer section evoking Lorca's disillusion with America, including the pinnacle of the performance: Paul Liburd's coiled power in a Negro dance, and extraordinary solo built from motifs of agony, labour and black jazz dance. The rest of Bruce's choreography is mostly routed in Spain, a savvy mix of traditional folk forms and modern postures.

Carlos Miranda's colourful score, played by London Musici, is just as effective, accompanying a large cast of dancers and singers who perform with a passion that the theme of Cruel Garden deserves.

To 14 November; 0171-863 8000

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper