Ghosts, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

There are two problems here. Marston can't make it clear that Captain Alving and his son suffer from syphilis; all diseases are unmentionable in dance. Worse, Marston's treatment leads to a helplessly pedestrian ballet; these are dancers going through the motions of a plot.

Ghosts is the last work of Marston's three-year stint as associate artist of the Royal Opera House. She's made dances linked to other works, especially to the contemporary operas staged at Covent Garden. Ghosts has a commissioned score, film sequences, and an uneven but at times striking design by Jon Bausor.

His set shows a stylised house, divided between the family's room and the servants' quarters. The layout is symmetrical; this production is ready to stress parallels. Bausor's costumes are less than successful; the heroine wears unflattering period costume.

Peter Anderson's film is puzzling. It sits in the background, footage of ice freezing or melting, without adding much. Most of the music in Dave Maric's score, conducted by Thomas Blunt, is for strings, clarinet and marimba. Starting with ticks and plops, Maric builds up to swoops and surges of sound. It doesn't lay down a structure for the dance.

The choreography is unemotional. Mrs Alving, dress padded with a pregnant bump, rejects her husband and is rejected by the visiting pastor. The husband seduces the maid (more pregnancy padding) before collapsing in fits. Marston uses the same kind of steps for all these events. Refusing Mrs Alving, the pastor swings her around and over his shoulders, much as Captain Alving swings the maid.

Mrs Alving is split in two, becoming younger and older versions of herself, danced by Clemmie Sveas and Charlotte Broom. Both watch the action, lurking in corners - the ghosts. The liveliest scene is a bread-making dance for the maid and her daughter, who prod dough with their elbows.

Most of the expression comes from the dancers. The pain of Captain Alving's fits is conveyed almost entirely by the dancer's face; Christopher Akrill looks anguished. Matthew Hart, as the ill son, does his best to look innocently happy before being blighted by syphilis. Sveas and Broom are grim-faced throughout, but they dance fluently.