Charlotte Kasner is at Wilton’s Music Hall, London
February 25, 2016
It seems remarkable that The Odyssey has not become a standard in the canon of dance works that derive inspiration from Greek legends. Crammed full of drama, it is an ideal work to stage and in Mark Bruce and his company, it receives the very best of treatment.
The production must use several gallons of fog juice as the auditorium is wreathed in a fug that could almost be a London Particular. The venue (more of which later) and the eclectic design give the whole evening an aura of Steam Punk.
Phil Eddolls’ design is simply stunning. Odysseus’ ship has a prow and stern that can close to form an eternal circle of life, echoed at times by a ring of chasers and a rotating disc on which one of the dancers is spread-eagled. O Fortuna indeed! At other times it sits upstage, sideways on, the prow and stern forming the horns of the Minotaur until it turns to become a magnificent vessel, battered by storms and propelled by the tattered remnants of a battle flag. At the climax, two dancers climb the closed ends to perch either side like angels on an engraving. Jonny Dixon’s masks are pivotal and terrific; I am still haunted by the lifelike ram which makes an all too brief appearance before the inevitable sacrifice. An enormous amount of skill and effort went into making that costume for its fleeting use and it was hard to believe that the dancer was actually a human, so well did he mimic the ovine.
The stage is built out with a rake and raised like a catwalk so that the thrust places the dancers slightly above and very close to the audience. This makes the work an almost visceral experience, not least because a lot of the rock music is sternum-rattlingly loud. The eclectic use of music is perfect, placing the action across the centuries with its themes of love, loss, violence and betrayal echoed in monumental choral music, decadent modern music or, at times, subverted whimsy.
The Cyclops is presented as Bad Santa, groping his cutsie girl helpers as they trip to the strains of Santa Claus is Coming to Town and leering over all with his piratical eye patch (nice touch!) Beware of Greeks bearing gifts – you heard it here first. Christopher Tandy’s Odysseus is battered and bloodied by a decade of war. He is a ruthless survivor, although not blind to various distractions as it takes him another ten years to traverse the 340 miles from Troy to Ithaca. While he is progressing and regressing, his wife Penelope (Hannah Kidd) is left at home, plagued by unsuitable suitors. One carves each day of Odysseus’ absence in five bar gates on her back as he and his companions plunder her husband’s hospitality.
Our anti-hero meanwhile is the love ’em and leave ’em type, scattering offspring and spurned women like discarded litter in his wake. Some try to trick him, Circe turning his men into swine, complete with black S&M type masks. He learns a few tricks on the way, having his cake and eating it by plugging his ears to the sirens’ songs as his ships ploughs through the waves and his shipmates are lured to Davy Jones’ locker. Odysseus’ murder of Nicole Guarino’s Immortal Woman is chilling. He thrusts his blade into her thrice as she shrieks and jerks and then throws her to the ground only for her to spring up with a spine-tinglingly evil cackle. Finally he alone survives and approaches his home in disguise to find the suitors, assuming him to be dead, competing for Penelope’s hand with a spot of toxophily. He alone can string the bow, makes a decent stab at the target and re-claims his beleaguered wife, dispatching all the unsuitables in the process.
The movement glides seamlessly from fluid to frenetic with plot points frozen in poses to sear the action on the eyeballs in a snapshot. Partnering is solid and seemingly effortless throughout. Ensemble dances are full of small steps with the flavour of the folk dance or silent tap, then dancers fling themselves into abandoned gyrations like dissolute jivers. Pas de deux are drawn in extended lines, limbs reaching out as if to get away, then bodies curling back in again as the here and now detracts from the continuing journey.
Wilton’s is an extraordinary place. Sitting in the auditorium or poking around its skeletal nooks and crannies is like being in a dynamic time capsule. The very fabric of the building, distressed and ageing and yet so alive bears its history for all to see, the battle scars of fires, Blitz, civic vandalism and ultimately loving restoration etched into its fabric. How wise not to paint this old lady in the colours of her youth but to let her mellow gracefully and continue to provide a crucible for creation.
It takes a bold and brilliant production to hold its own with the venue and Mark Bruce and his team certainly do that. The Odyssey is an experience not to be missed.
The Odyssey is at Wilton’s until March 19. For details and tickets call 020 7702 2789 or visit iltons.org.uk.
For subsequent tour dates, visit markbrucecompany.com.