DANCE / Death angels

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The Independent Culture
Emilyn Claid's Laid Out Lovely: a rotting romance is a scabrous, sinister and sometimes very funny exposure of the skull beneath our collective skin. Among its deck of erotic / graveyard images, the key conceit is of two lovers singing optimistically of immortality, while around their heedless embrace dances a couple who've just crawled out of a coffin. Naked, bony, and ghoulishly pale, their long limbs twitch in a kind of St Vitus frenzy, like lovers who've just been embracing among worms.

To a dance audience the work's other key figure is Claid's ageing, gin-soaked ballerina (Alicia Alonzo of Absolutely Fabulous) who clings stubbornly to the illusion of girlishness and technique. It's an obvious morality device, but Claid does it well. Her tipsy hiccups elide hilariously into bourrees, her self-deceiving theatrical gestures are all straight out of ballet, and the little death that comes from suddenly seeing herself, dishevelled and unlovely in front of a mirror, really hurts.

The work is a deliberately fragmented shuffling of ideas and the effect is often haphazard. But the piece has a grit and courage that survive the flaws. The dancers' bare forked nudity isn't softened by flattering light, their evocation of sexuality involves flesh sucking greedily on flesh. When Claid and Olwen May recite an overripe Swinburnian text on deathly eroticism there's a wonderful shock in hearing male words appropriated for lesbian love.

Mark Murphy's 32 feet per second per second is the mirror-opposite to Laid out Lovely - technically sumptuous where the latter is homespun, emotionally short-circuited where the latter is generous. Most importantly, though, it is the most sophisticated integration of film and dance I've ever seen.

It opens with a man spinning high in a harness as film of a building rushes past him - an endless, vertiginous image of a suicide's fall. It then tries to show the breakdown that provoked the jump - with the film playing out the man's disintegrating emotions. As he (James Hewison) moves around the stage, huge, self-conscious images of himself are projected behind him. Sitting on a bed we also see him running down a dream corridor, or being haunted by the four people who obsess him. Projected on to a front scrim, images of these characters move in and out of focus - grainy and threatening, or else blurs that vaporise extraordinarily into wisps of memory and feeling.

The movement between real and interior worlds is constantly and inventively negotiated. It could be an astonishing piece, except that Murphy has so disastrously vague an idea of the drama that precipitates the man's collapse. What he shows us is five people going through a frenetically promiscuous mating dance, and looking so conscientiously miserable about it that it's hard not to laugh. Murphy's choreography provides only a fashionable semiotics of emotion - grabbing embraces, bruising falls, glossily agonised expressions. The work's passion - and I hope it's one Murphy will pursue - is all for the camera, rather than what bodies can do.