Friday, 12 September 2008

Baby baby, I'm in love with your degeneration


Just back from Sadler's Wells and Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray. I had a knackering day at work and was wearing in a pair of new shoes, so I took a cab there (walking was agony) and damn near dozed off a couple of times on the way. Dorian Gray has had mixed reviews and I began to experience that familiar doing-kulcher-on-Friday fear of falling asleep.

I didn't fall asleep.

As we took our seats, someone in the row behind us said, "get ready for some raunch". It wasn't raunch. It was sexy, though, in a weirdly (or perhaps deliberately) hollow style: slick surfaces containing relatively little by way of emotional engagement. I don't mean this as criticism; I actually really liked the mood created. Although there were nods to here and now (a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Jonathan Ross/Four Poofs pastiche and Damien Hirst mirrorball skull), it made me think of that spell in the late '80s/early '90s when male bodies came to the fore in advertising - buffed, plucked, waxed male bodies, shot in ever-so-tasteful black and white. Denatured Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber shooting jockey shorts for Calvin Klein, Madonna's Sex beefcake a-voguing.

At some point, the monochrome glossiness itself became erotic, detachedly so. My favourite segment was, I think, the bit in the first half when (the lovely Richard Winsor's) Dorian and the photographer who's discovered him engage in a sort of predator-and-prey camera tango. I realised that the camera shutter sound itself is quite alluring - I was reminded of Morrissey's The Harsh Truth Of The Camera Eye - and the exhibitionist/voyeurist to-and-froing was intriguing. By the interval, I was feeling quite touchy-feely and other people seemed the same: lots of kissing and nuzzling in the bar. I was convinced I was floating around with hugely dilated sex-pupils. Big time sensuality.

The second half charted Dorian's descent into absent-minded orgies (with men and women - as ever, casual bisexuality seems to be shorthand for moral dissolution), escalating mutilation imagery and rampant narcissism (signalled by a giant lightbulb-festooned letter D à la Elvis Comeback Special).

I could've done without the doppelgänger strand. I mean, it was interesting enough but a bit fuzzy, conceptually, and muddied the whole deteriorating-portrait thing (Dorian's double remained pristine as he grew increasingly bloodstained). I read it as his conscience/superego, from which he detached when he allowed his tiny dancer to die at the end of the first half. That said, some of the doppelgänger scenes were genuinely creepy - making me think of this:

("You're the devil in me I brought in from the cold". I still love the breakdancing policemen.)

The music was excellent, teasingly reminiscent of all manner of '80s delicacies. I heard hints of Yoko Ono, Bryan Ferry (and the vampiric Lady H made me think of the long, lithe models of his Slave To Love period), even Ryuichi Sakamoto. I suppose that could be perceived as distracting but, for me, it all contributed to the evocation of a particular era.


Robin said...

Somewhat off topic.

That video was cool! I haven't seen it before (having not had MTV or anything until a year or so ago). But the places are places I know really well, which stopped it being so odd - Crystal Palace Park and Oxleas Wood in particular.

Back on topic!

Dorian Gray sounds interesting. I'm not hugely into dance pieces, though I've seen a couple that were mind-blowing (Sinner, by Stan Won't Dance springs to mind.)

That sense of detachment increasing (or maybe just altering?) the eroticism of the piece is interesting.

Pogonophile said...

Glad you liked Setting Sun. Not being an enormous Oasis fan, I think it's one of the best things Noel Gallagher's been involved in - and I've always loved the video. It's presumably meant to depict the effects of Ye Olde Rave Drugges (although it seems more like acid than anything else) and I think it does surreal time/space dislocation very well.

One of the criticisms of Dorian Gray (from critics on the Late Review) was that "there's not enough dancing" but I thought they got it about right. I was going to agree with you about not being into dance pieces but then, I say that and almost always end up liking stuff more than I think I will. So I'll stop saying it. :)

I think that detached eroticism was what they were going for - presumably to echo the idea that Dorian is so detached in his beauty that he becomes increasingly able to treat those around him as objects...