Dance: South Pacific, step by step

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It wasn't hard to foresee that director Trevor Nunn and choreographer Matthew Bourne would one day beat a path to one another's door. Nunn gives everything he touches – Shakespeare and opera included – the populist appeal of a musical. Bourne creates dance dramas that are musicals in all but name.

In theory, South Pacific doesn't need a choreographer. Unlike Oklahoma! it has no designated dance numbers. What it does have is 1001 opportunities for filling space with interest. That sweeping revolve – Nunn's favourite tool – spinning the focus from Seabees doing keep-fit on the beach to jungle HQ to girl ensigns queuing for the shower hut – asks for a choreographer's eye to maintain variety and flow. The beauty of this show is that it's impossible to tell where the director's direction ends and the choreographer's begins.

Take the opener – the entire male cast of no-good, bored and bullish guys working off their energy. In typical fashion, Bourne takes the most basic of motifs, jogging, organises the joggers into squads, and casually plaits them into an eye-popping kaleidoscope of pattern. So apparently simple, so effective. Did I detect Bourne's touch, too, in the slick pyramids of bodies at the climax of choruses? Each syllable of "gen-u-ine fem-i-nine dame" becomes a cue for two or three more guys to torpedo into the frame, skidding on their bellies, or mounting shoulders. It may be as corny as Kansas in August, but it's glorious.

There are subtleties too. The jingly solo "Happy Talk" could easily stand unadorned. But as a bonus we get a distant shadow-play of two girls – oblivious – performing a vaudeville hoop trick for another audience we can't see, beyond the back of the stage. The fuzzy effect recalls a circus painting by Seurat, but it's also a deliciously abstract response to the lyrics.