Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men
REVIEW ... ICA, London
by Clement Crisp
Financial Times | Friday Nov 4 1988
Homosexual murder and necrophilia might not seem the most promising matters for a dance piece, but in Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men the ever-alert DV8 troupe has produced a taut and powerful work which explores these terrifying aspects of psychosis.
The starting point is Brian Master's remarkable study of Dennis Nilsen, Killing For Company, but this is not an explicit narrative. DV8 rightly identifies itself as 'physical theatre', and Dead Dreams has found a movement language that explores and exposes a sequence of emotional states — that interlock and exist as layers of meaning for us and for the performers about the theme.
Dead Dreams is a collaborative creation of its four-man cast. Lloyd Newson, as artistic director, must take much credit but his colleagues Nigel Charnock, Douglas Wright and Russell Maliphant (lately with Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet and Dance Advance) are admirably attuned to the style and implications of the piece, and very gifted. There results an 80-minute journey through a homosexual underworld of desolate encounters that seek some ideal of love and physical beauty, before a giddying descent into the depths of mania.
It is the especial distinction of this production that the links between the 'ordinary' of brief sexual encounters, and the 'extraordinary' of of necrophilia — that ultimate unreason in a relationship — are subtly suggested. A fine but uncredited setting of walls that conceal ladders, a Venetian blind, a bath-tub placed against a mirrored wall, excellently lit, become a street, a pub, a house. the four players establish a world of erotic posing, then take us below the surface to sexual fantasies, to unassuaged and unassuageable desires, and to the final acts of violence and hopeless manipulation of the dead.
What grips the attention is the physical bravado and sensitivity of the performers and of their language. They balance the most delicate expressive effects of gesture against wildest activity. There are ferocious outbursts of slamming — that boots-first foray of skin-heads into dance — and heart-stopping moments when Mr Charnock flings himself from the set on to his companions. There are images of stunning power as a corpse is assaulted, as Mr Charnock climbs like a succubus over the stage, or clings waif-like on Douglas Wright's shoulders. There are passages of frank eroticism, of bleakest loneliness, and an appalling final pose as Mr Newson sits in uncompromising lighting, while the body of Russell Maliphant hangs upside down from a harness, like a side of meat, and the two other performers lie on the stage. And we have understood.
As creators and interpreters, the cast deserve every praise for the clarity and imaginative force of what they do, for the risks they take, and their funambulist skill in crossing over a gulf into which most dance-theatre blunders. In an exceptional year for variety of dance, Dead Dreams remains an exceptional work of art, powerful, uncomfortable, true.