Dance: The dangers of self-indulgence

SUSAN MARSHALL & COMPANY FESTIVAL THEATRE
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DID JEAN die? Did she drown or was she murdered? Yes, no, maybe. Susan Marshall's female narrator does not necessarily describe real events, it seems. The piece, according to Marshall, is "about innermost thoughts and memories. And insecurities. And confusion." You can say that last word again.

The Most Dangerous Room In The House is not about a serial murderer lurking behind the fridge. It is about the fear that something awful will happen to ourselves, our families or friends, so that the most dangerous room is perhaps our own mind. But the problem with such an elusive, tangled theme is finding a way to unravel the threads and make them more tangible. Instead, Marshall piles on the question marks. Why insert two pas de deux as "entr'actes"? Why all the conspicuous business of stagehands moving the screens about to so little purpose? Why suddenly at the end introduce two other stagehands to carry a woman on and off?

Meanwhile, half the Dress Circle couldn't be bothered and were strangely remembering other urgent commitments. The rest of us slumped in our seats and would have dozed off, were it not for the narrator's irritating miked howls and David Lang's metallic, lacerating music. The jigsaw of dance and fragments of spoken text needed some ingredient to grip our attention. But there are no characters to hold on to among the eight performers: only the bespectacled, middle-aged narrator comes anywhere near and she would bore a potted plant to distraction.

Marshall says she likes to use movement in its natural form: "not in a stylised way, because I believe that, unadorned, these movements can communicate the depth of our lives." Oh, come off it! This choreography communicates nothing apart from nondescript shapes and desultory groupings. Occasional flashes of unison remind us that there is a lot in favour of beautified dance and pattern, that stylisation is necessary for movement effectively to carry across the footlights. But the grappling duets are the opposite of visually arresting. The figures repeatedly pressing and squirming against a wall become tedious; the different bodies dropping dead are bewildering. One woman develops a peculiar obsession with standing one-legged on a chair and rubbing her hands like Lady Macbeth.

If I were Marshall I should ditch her newfound method of choreographing through collaboration and improvisation with the dancers. She founded her American Company 17 years ago and has wide touring experience (including to Britain). But if The Most Dangerous Room is the mind, the Most Dangerous Person in Edinburgh is the one who programmed this piece and Meg Stuart's preceding event at the Festival Theatre.

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