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Sea of Troubles review at Clore Studio, London – ‘dramatic prowess’

Yorke Dance Project in Sea of Troubles at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Pari Naderi Yorke Dance Project's Sea of Troubles at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Pari Naderi
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Yorke Dance Project perform Kenneth MacMillan’s only barefoot ballet with a remarkable sense of enigmatic drama and technical assurance. A chamber piece for six, Sea of Troubles was originally created in 1988 for Dance Advance, a small troupe of former Royal Ballet dancers committed to new works and wider audiences.

Based on Hamlet, the piece doesn’t attempt to adapt the play’s narrative into dance. Rather, it’s a study in tormented interiority and morbid misogyny rendered with the unsteady intensity of a dream. The stage is bare save for a simple white arras, while single items of costume identify certain characters – crowns for Gertrude and Claudius, Ophelia’s floral wreath – though the dancers slip between roles.

All is disruption and distortion. Accompanied by the searing antic energy of Webern and Martinu’s music, moments of startling expressionist detail emerge: Hamlet raises a hand to his mouth, his fingers splayed from his lips, an anguished dissembler.

Elsewhere he teeters on his toes, compelled into anxious sideways springs. In this realm of feigned feelings and power-hungry posturing, Claudius and Gertrude promenade across the space in the formal manner of a courtly masque, but there’s a glut of queasy sexuality on display too.

Gertrude lasciviously exposes her inner thighs, instigating entanglements with Claudius that are replayed and refracted. Hamlet’s interactions with Ophelia are punitive and obsessive. Her leaps are leadened, arms held rigidly by her sides in a burdened flight curtailed by Hamlet, who rotates her stiffened body from the neck. It’s an insistently guilt-soaked, deftly-danced work.

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MacMillan’s gripping, allusive and hallucinatory distillation of Hamlet danced with dramatic prowess