Dances of war, death and destruction

Darshan Singh Bhuller takes on the atrocities of the Balkans conflict in his Planted Seeds
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The Independent Culture

Darshan Singh Bhuller has been the artistic director of Phoenix Dance Theatre since last February. He relaunched the company in spring 2003 with a triple bill of premieres, including his own creation, Requiem. Now the multicultural troupe will dance his intensely theatrical Planted Seeds.

Bhuller himself stopped dancing in 1997 to concentrate on choreography. "I don't miss it at all. I enjoy directing others," he says. He originally created Planted Seeds - about the atrocities of civil war - with his own company, Singh Productions, in 1998, after visiting Bosnia just after the war finished in 1997. "The piece is about an ethical race problem between three white tribes and the surrounding issues of religion and history, the whole BosnianTurkish Empire, and how Islam entered former Yugoslavia," explains Bhuller.

Bhuller was a member of London Contemporary Dance Theatre from 1979 to 1994, has danced with Siobhan Davies Dance Company and was the assistant director at Richard Alston Dance Company. As a choreographer, he has created five works for Phoenix: Speak Like A Child (1983), Shock Absorber (1990), Interlock (1992), Heart of Chaos (1993) and White Picket Fence (1996).

Planted Seeds was inspired by newspaper reportage and personal accounts of the Yugoslavian civil war. "The piece tells three stories," he says. These include the true story of the two young lovers, one a Serb, one a Muslim, whom the media at the time called Sarajevo's Romeo and Juliet. They were tragically shot dead as they tried to leave the city during the conflict.

In the main, though, the piece is "about how men on both sides use rape as a weapon to 'plant seeds'," says Bhuller. "Women being hauled into warehouses and raped - that shocked me more than anything else that happened in this war," says Bhuller.

Bob Smith, a man in his fifties and a veteran performer of Phoenix Dance Theatre, will give a typically physical performance, reprising his role of rapist and murderer, "an evil guy who eventually kills another human being, and survives everything", as Bhuller puts it. "He is a big guy - not your classic-looking dancer. For a start, he has a huge pot belly. But he is mature and experienced." Without recourse to dialogue, conveying the bitter conflict of two sides at war is no easy matter. "It has to be all in their body language," says Bhuller.

The set is very simple - just a doorway, a rope with a fairly distressed look and unassuming pedestrian costumes - but the soundtrack includes national folk tunes, the music of the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki, the award-winning Sarajevan film composer Goran Bregovic, along with songs by the rock group U2.

"Just before I arrived in Sarajevo, U2 had just done a post-war concert. People were more interested in talking about U2 than the war. I saw how music and an art form can draw people together. In a corny way, this is a tribute."

'Planted Seeds' is at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury (01227 787787) tonight, then touring to 27 November