DANCE / To see or not to see?

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The Independent Culture
HAMLET without words? Totally unsuitable for dance. This is the conclusion Kim Brandstrup almost came to in creating Antic for Arc Dance Company. Stripped of language, he says in the programme notes, you are left with only a crude story of revenge. He was not put off. Delving deeper, he has created a dance based on evocation rather than action.

To see or not to see? Antic is a triumph for Brandstrup, probably the only choreographer in Britain creating narrative works. Here he is particularly clear-headed, extracting the essence of the plot, choosing only 10 easily identifiable characters. Like The Dybbuk and Mysteries, two of his earlier pieces, Antic is a story from an old world paradoxically told in new dance. The combination is intriguing. Aristocratic costumes (by Craig Givens) and soft lighting (by Tina MacHugh) like an Old Master painting create rich and sensuous visual theatre.

The work is divided into four tableaux. In the first, Hamlet's dead father lies on a table, a slate heap. Hamlet (Jeremy James) leaps to the table and stares at his father, then turns away, disbelieving and grieving. The father's ghost (a towering David Scinto) gets up from the table and gently mimics his distracted son. They dance together, cheerfully reunited, their hands touching. Then, the new King (Mark Ashman) and Queen (Souli Yates) enter, absorbed in their love-play, kissing over the table where their dead brother and husband once lay in state. Hamlet jumps into the ghost's arms and, with an arm around his neck, the prince hangs from the tall man, a small boy with a big task. And so the evocation is achieved.

Stillness is as eloquent as movement. Before the play in which Hamlet hopes to catch the conscience of the King, Brandstrup creates a tableau within a tableau. Ophelia, her father and brother are grouped stage-right like figures from a baroque still- life. Opposite, the King sits on a stool, attended by the Queen and a conspiratorial-looking Hamlet. Deeper in, the three players are warming up with exercises. Into this setting, the tall grey ghost strides portentously.

Brandstrup has been accused of being repetitive. But repeated combinations in Antic serve to reaffirm their loveliness and to act as emblems - the King and Queen kissing, Ophelia's swaying arms, first to attract Hamlet's attention, then in madness, the tumbles as Hamlet and Laertes, Ophelia's brother, duel after their father is murdered by Hamlet behind the curtain.

Jeremy James is on stage virtually throughout, light-footed but heavy-hearted, always driven, but never to excess. His is a dancer's performance rather than an actor's, skilfully executed, and generous in its need not to dominate.

Far less successful is Shakespeare with words in LOVE by Volcano Theatre Company from Wales, directed by Nigel Charnock, a gifted member of DV8 Physical Theatre. Because the sonnets are not inherently dramatic, any work based on them must be contrived. In his desperation to keep two men and a woman (Paul Davies, Liam Steel and Fern Smith) moving on stage, Charnock confuses LOVE with SEX In 90 minutes we have members of the audience being kissed, actors bouncing on beds, bum-baring, homosexuality, bisexuality, stripping, masturbation, attempted rape, and castration. No wonder it was difficult to follow the words. But Charnock's sex becomes tedious - too much of a bad thing. Talent that festers smells far worse than weeds.

'Antic', Octagon Theatre, Yeovil, 0935 22884, Wed.