| 32 Feet per second per second
Rough-and-tumble at Heartbreak Hotel (7 November 1993)
Mark Murphy has made a black-and-white film and incorporates it into his V-TOL Dance Company's newest work, 32 feet per second per second. As a screen, he uses a makeshift curtain pulled across the stage. The show could have looked like a village hall screening in the Fifties, but doesn't. This is because the youthful Murphy is rather brave and clever: he balances film and performance, uses both to bowl the narrative along, and achieves a striking, coherent work in two media.
The piece starts with a dancer (James Hewison) suspended in air like a parachutist in front of a film of a building. The images are speeded up and Hewison circles, legs and arms flying, to create the effect of someone free-falling down the facade. The makeshift screen is pulled across and a hand-held camera records members of the company arriving at "Heartbreak Hotel". They explore the corridor and rooms; a man and a woman become so excited they copulate, fully-clothed, in the corridor. It's safe sex - on screen and not too shocking. The screen is pulled back to reveal a hotel room. A man sleeps. A woman takes off her towel and gets into the shower. We see her bathing through the frosted glass.
As the piece builds, Hewison emerges as a David Koresh figure, a menacing leader who abuses the women and aggressively prevents them from being with the other two men, whom they prefer. The omnipotent Hewison is thwarted: not even he can force the women to want him. The film shows close-ups of the women's reactions, close-ups of Hewison reflecting on his plight. It comprises rapidly edited images and dissolves - people frolicking on a bed; running backwards along corridors; faces, mouths. The effect, coupled with Murphy's physical, rough-and-tumble dance, is racy and hypnotic, a fully realised visual work.
Curtains... and cut (12 November 1993)
Are you ready for Dance Cinema? For V-TOL's 32 feet per second per second belongs just as much in the movie house as it does in the theatre.
From the moment the opening credits roll (to the surging sound of Gene Pitney's Town Without Pity) to when the curtains come down and the arthouse audience sit stock still to check the titles - these are serious cinemagoers after all - director Mark Murphy adroitly mixes his mediums to produce a show that combines the physical allure of dance with the visual thrills of the cinema.
The chief technical trick is a layering of the action that allows for a switch between solid screen and naked stage, via a filmy gauze, enabling the audience to follow the characters into situations which, in a straightforward dance piece, would simply have ended in a blind alley.
It's the in-between stage, where the performers are caught both on film and on stage, that provides the most persuasive images. Using a transparent screen that creates a combination of both live and film action, this technique throws up all kinds of questions about the conscious and unconscious self as solid bodies float into the ether, leaving their living, breathing versions on the bedroom floor below.
All this, of course, would be so much technical razzmatazz if there wasn't the semblance of a story to hold it all together. So, by casting the excellent James Hewison as The Man With The Ice Cold Heart, Murphy ventures into the arena of the psychological thriller, examining emotional repression as his central character confuses love with control, possession with affection.
This gives rise to some images of graphic sexual violence which stray dangerously close to the gratuitous. But here Murphy is helped by leaping the imagination into the movies: it may be little consolation to acknowledge it, but the brutal style of modern cinema has conditioned us to a level of physical intensity that requires extreme measures to break down our walls of self-protection.
It's ambitious, challenging stuff and inevitably there
never seems quite enough room for the dance sections to breathe, squeezed
as they are by cinematic constraints. So you end up feeling that 65 minutes
wasn't quite long enough to fully explore everything that was going on.
But a dance piece that's 20 minutes too short? Now that's praise indeed!
12 March 1994
It opens with a man spinning high in a harness as film of a building rushes past him - an endless, vertiginous image of a suicide's fall. It then tries to show the breakdown that provoked the jump - with the film playing out the man's disintegrating emotions. As he (James Hewison) moves around the stage, huge, self-conscious images of himself are projected behind him. Sitting on a bed we also see him running down a dream corridor, or being haunted by the four people who obsess him. Projected on to a front scrim, images of these characters move in and out of focus - grainy and threatening, or else blurs that vaporise extraordinarily into wisps of memory and feeling.
The movement between real and interior worlds is constantly and inventively negotiated. It could be an astonishing piece, except that Murphy has so disastrously vague an idea of the drama that precipitates the man's collapse. What he shows us is five people going through a frenetically promiscuous mating dance, and looking so conscientiously miserable about it that it's hard not to laugh. Murphy's choreography provides only a fashionable semiotics of emotion - grabbing embraces, bruising falls, glossily agonised expressions. The work's passion - and I hope it's one Murphy will pursue - is all for the camera, rather than what bodies can do.