Hans Christian Andersen, Linbury Studio Theatre

Suspend and disbelieve
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The Independent Culture




Kim Brandstrup's new work goes by the unwieldy full name of Hans Christian Andersen: The Anatomy of a Storyteller. The piece, made in collaboration with ROH2 and showing as part of Dance Umbrella, underlines parallels between the author's stories and his life. The point is unmistakable, but it makes for fitful drama.

That is disappointing, because Brandstrup, whose dances for his Arc company tend to dither, has recently shown new strength as a choreographer. His work for Rambert and for Johan Kobborg's company was weightier: bolder gestures, cleaner phrasing, tauter drama. But The Anatomy of a Storyteller is back to the usual Brandstrup.

The piece shows sketches of Andersen's life, plus three full tales. The Writer, danced by Gildas Diquero, glooms about, tilting and stretching on the spot. Other dancers group and regroup around him, staring or mocking, then reappear as characters in the tales. Ian Dearden's atmospheric score layers water sounds, new piano writing and pieces by Brahms and Schubert. Brandstrup rushes through all of it. Most scenes are stretched thin, full of aimless repetition.

The piece is lifted by its designs, marvellous film images by the Quay Brothers, Brandstrup and Dominique Rivoal. Projections of water cast rippling lights across the stage. Layered images suggest perspective, long vistas opening up beyond a narrow, claustrophobic performance space. In "The Snow Queen", Gerda's journey is framed by moving abstract shapes. The same picture suggests frost patterns, a storm-tossed forest, ice caverns.

"The Shadow", the first tale, is wrapped in sepia fog, with glimpses of lit windows and slanting streets. The Writer (the Andersen figure inside his own story) admires a woman but is too shy to approach her. Instead, he sends his shadow. The film staging is cleverly unsettling: a looming silhouette wriggles its way up to her window, leaving darkness behind it.

As the shadow takes over the Writer's life, it appears on stage. It starts by echoing his movements and ends by directing them. This is the strongest scene, short and uncluttered. Kenneth Tharp is a menacing shadow; he understands how tiny gestures have real impact.

If only the other scenes were so concise. Brandstrup doesn't give his steps space or time: they don't register. Big movements are hurried together with small ones. The dancing isn't opened out with floor patterns, with travelling steps.

Brandstrup's dancers are fluent but keep repeating themselves. Kay and Gerda spend so much time wandering round the Snow Queen's palace that I wondered if they would ever escape. The stories are carefully spelt out, but they don't make satisfying dance images.

Elsewhere in the Dance Umbrella, the British choreographer Yolande Snaith collaborates with the artist Sharon Marston and the set designer Miranda Melville to create Jardin Blanc. The designs are full of elaborate textures and delicate lighting, a stylised garden of fairy lights and filaments.

Snaith uses the setting to evoke different kinds of garden. One dancer crouches down in the shadows, hands to the floor and elbows turned out. He's a frog, croaking gently in a damp corner.

That frog is Snaith's deftest image. Jardin Blanc is often baggy, overextending ideas or allowing them to get cute. Texts by the playwright Adele Edling Shank tend to woolliness - in one, an adult voice hopes that fairies will appear. Others describe memorial gardens, city gardens, abandoned and empty gardens. The work is studded with striking ideas that straggle in performance.

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