Caravaggio: Exile and Death

Choreographed by Darshan Singh Bhuller
Dance City, Newcastle, and touring
(2011)

Caravaggio: Exile and Death production photo

Darshan Singh Bhuller's Caravaggio: Exile and Death is a delight.

It's an unusual piece of contemporary dance in that it is narrative. But not simple narrative: Bhuller cleverly incorporates some of Caravaggio's best known paintings into the piece, not as tableaux but by giving us a stage of the creative process. Towards the beginning, for example, Bacchus, one of his earliest works, is suggested by the model being shaved prior to the actual painting and generally we see the model being posed, limbs adjusted and head turned.

Although we begin with the artist on his death bed, convulsing with his body painfully arching on the stage floor (it is thought he died from lead poisoning), and the piece is chronologically accurate, the central story is fictional, a love triangle between Caravaggio and a penniless young couple, which represents, in its homo- and heterosexual love and the violence and murder it provoked, the whole of his comparatively short life, which was characterised by many brushes with the law and even, on one occasion, murder.

Although the stage is bare throughout, the production values are very high. John B Read's lighting design recreates the painting style for which Caravaggio is most famous, chiaroscuro, and KMA's hugely apposite graphics are an almost constant feature of the piece, sometimes spilling onto the stage floor as well as forming a highly effective background. The music is wide-ranging, from modern percussion to Gregorian Chant, and always apposite.

There are seven dancers, mainly young although Lee Clayden (Caravaggio) is clearly older, and the choreography creates two distinct worlds, the youthful (occasionally feral) world of the streets (Caravggio used prostitutes and rent boys as his models: on one occasion, for The Death of the Virgin, a corpse pulled from the river) and the febrile, both in his affairs and his paintings, world of the artist himself.

The performances are uniformly superb: ensemble and individual work is precise and controlled and timing is spot-on so that everything integrates with the video and graphics.

A really fine piece of work, impeccably performed.

"Caravaggio: Exile and Death" tours to The Place, London (9th - 12th November) and Buxton Opera House (15th November)

Reviewer: Peter Lathan