DANCE / All body but no soul: Judith Mackrell on Irek Mukhamedov in Othello at Sadler's Wells

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The Independent Culture
Romantic, melodramatic, big-hearted, exotic - Othello is a role made in heaven for the bravura talents of Irek Mukhamedov. Until last year, though, there wasn't an available Othello ballet for him to dance. So Mukhamedov (who has an impressive track record in commissioning new work for his occasional pick-up company) went out and got one made, choosing modern dance choreographer Kim Brandstrup and featuring the work (plus Brandstrup's own Arc Company) in a programme of divertissements at Sadler's Wells.

Brandstrup's Othello is 50 minutes long and goes for dramatic essence rather than detail. The characters of Othello and Iago are immediately registered by extreme contrasts of style so that, where Othello is all proudly flamboyant turns inflected by graceful, hieratic gestures, Iago moves in an insinuating crouch, his angled body rapt with watchfulness and growing triumph.

Their relationship is developed by a series of devices that are often stunning in their economy. As Iago, literally, dogs Othello's movements you can almost see him leeching away Othello's confidence and joy. When Othello starts to crack he lifts his hands to ward off the diabolic strength of Iago's presence. Most vivid of all is the way that Iago's fabrications are staged. The rest of the characters perform a masked dance for Othello and, as they change partners, Iago freeze-frames the action to show Cassio and Desdemona in erotically compromising positions.

Ian Dearden's music is tautly atmospheric, Craig Givens's lavish and flattering costumes fill the stage with movement - and there are moments when dance, music and design distil the flavour of Shakespeare's play. All in all, Brandstrup's Othello ought to be very good - yet Mukhamedov, who can normally command an auditorium full of Kleenex, leaves you dry-eyed.

The problem is that while Brandstrup can write wonderfully legible signposts for his characters' actions and responses, he bypasses their hearts. While Mukhamedov and Daniel Belton as Iago are eloquent in every gesture, they aren't given rich or complex enough dance passages to develop their characters' motivations or passions. Brandstrup gives in too easily to the repetitive pull of Dearden's music. His phrasing is static - so that the dancers can't shape the steps to articulate nuances of emotion - and his limited dance material is recycled too often. However passionately Mukhamedov tries to wring tragedy out of Othello, he's thwarted by the fact that the movement which marks his early triumph hardly differs from that which marks his fall.

There's not much to say about the choreographic flummery which makes up the second part of the show. It's a lapse from the elegant taste of Mukhamedov's last independent programme, except for the shamelessly sweet patisserie of Balanchine's Tarantella danced by Mukhamedov and Miyako Yoshida. Brandstrup must feel that the Soviet kitsch of Diana and Actaeon and the pink floating chiffon of Michael Corder's Two Dances make peculiar company for his own work - but he can take comfort that they make us look back on Othello as a model of intelligence and invention.

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(Photograph omitted)

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