Dervishes in leather jackets

Dance
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The Independent Culture
PERFORMERS have ways of forestalling disaster. "Break a leg" they say, in the belief that by voicing the worst that could happen, it wouldn't dare. But young dancers such as Mark Murphy are creating work in which human muscle and bone is only part of the hardware. Technology is the new prima donna, and there's no bad-luck charm can save her when the tape snaps. We may as well all go home.

Wednesday was a black day for V-TOL and even blacker for the management of The Place, obliged to announce 20 minutes into In the Privacy of My Own, that the accompanying film had broken and the show could not continue. Drinks on the house and ticket refunds will have trashed the theatre's finances, and didn't much relieve our frustration at seeing less than half the show. We'd seen enough to know that Mark Murphy's vision of choreography, film, sound and light - a Gesamtkunstwerk in modern dance - is an exciting advance that fully justifies its technical complexity, dodgy celluloid or no.

To begin, we see three bodies, naked and coiled in sleep. A lilting voice intones poetic psychobabble above them: we are going to find out what makes these people tick. Later, leather-jacketed and dressed for the street, the bodies spring to life, whirling and skidding through Murphy's furious dervish-dancing, lapels and long hair flailing, arms propelling bodies almost dangerously out of control.

But controlling wildly diverse elements is what this choreographer does so well. Suddenly, with a slap, a gauze screen descends and a film shows our three characters in three domestic settings. The soundtrack lurches into Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" and we see that each is in the throes of leaving a lover, or being left. While the gauze shows the mundane reality (a girl clearing shelves of books; a couple squabbling over who keeps the cat), behind it the live performers dance out their alternating numbness, rage, confusion, exhilaration. Some of the filmed sequences are too long, but the layering of images works beautifully, creating an intriguing whole that is more than the sum of its parts.

No one would wish ill on Chamber Ballet Prague, but the programme it gave at Sadler's Wells could have done with a galvanising incident. The dancers are competent but the costumes dreary, and Pavel Smok's choreography, for all its colouring of Czech folk dance, is oddly monotone. One pained movement for sorrow; childish skips for happiness; women waft; men are sturdy. Sixteen years of uncritical Communist finance did this 20-year-old company no favours.

`In the Privacy of My Own': Taunton Brewhouse, 0823 283244, 22 Apr.

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