Pictures From An Exhibition

Published May 14, 2009

At a time when it might be easy to programme known crowd-pleasers, the Young Vic continues to push boundaries and test itself, resisting any urge to slip unnoticed into presenting safe productions.

In recent years it has co-produced operas with English National Opera and shows with companies from across the globe. Now it turns its attention to dance theatre, combining with Sadler’s Wells to create a piece inspired by Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures From An Exhibition.

Choreographed by Frauke Requardt and co-choreographed and directed by Daniel Kramer, who directed the much heralded ENO co-production of Punch And Judy, this new piece, the first to be danced to Mussorgsky’s score, creates a nightmarish series of vignettes as the dying composer suffers flashbacks from his life.

Judging by the excerpts presented at the Young Vic, it is not a life I would want to look back on, packed as it is with monsters imagined by a creative soul. Those two most traumatic of subjects, childhood and sex, recur relentlessly to torment the composer. Fairytale fantasies haunt him; a lime green lycra-clad reptilian dancer graphically emasculates, psychotic dancing bears bring death and super-sized chickens taunt and bully.

Perhaps more tellingly, with only three female dancers in the company, when the performers dance in pairs, it is Edward Hogg’s Mussorgsky who is teamed with a male partner; the odd one out in a society where his friends all marry.

Amid Richard Hudson’s set of tall doors and neon light, reminiscent of Alice In Wonderland, the performers slip from speech to dance and back again as Mussorgsky’s score shifts from its sweeping, engulfing orchestral opening, through touching piano solos and bass-thumping dance remixes to the triumphant, euphoric fanfare which accompanies the composer’s final, monster-free fate.

MA