The Daily Telegraph Without Trace

A memorable disappearing act

Ismene Brown

The Daily Telegraph, 25 October 1999

Without Trace left a very big trace indeed in my mind

Never mind the gap between ballet and contemporary dance – there’s a chasm between contemporary dance and dance-theatre now. How different from the “proper” modern choreographers who have emerged either from ballet or Cunningham/Graham rigour are the dance makers who trained at the Laban Centre, and who use dance as only one element of a multi-visual package of ideas from today’s world.

Choreography may not be the strongest weapon in their armoury, but Matthew Bourne of AMP, Mark Murphy of V-TOL and Lea Anderson of the Cholmondeleys and Featherstonehaughs make no little theatrical impact. The risk with dance-theatre, though, is lazily relying on “concept”.

Both Murphy and Anderson go for stylish, familiar subjects in their latest pieces – the former for a story about a woman who goes missing, in Without Trace, the latter for a rehash of Weimar cabaret in Smithereens – but Murphy has worked far harder to touch us.

Without Trace (which I saw at Newbury’s Corn Exchange) uses dance, speech, film, live music and an ingeniously simple set by Miranda Melville to show the events and inner lives of the people caught in this most dreadful of situations. City girl Beth takes to the road and an unlucky end; the blank distress on the huge close-ups of her face and her bewildered boyfriend’s can’t be read, and one must turn to the dancers’ body-movements on stage for explanation.

Murphy doesn’t differentiate Beth enough in her movement, and his fluent technical manipulation of film/live doesn’t always raise the work above the level of a missing-persons propaganda film. Finally, however, he does, with his choreography, in a pulverising closing section. Beth’s hitchhike ends in a fatal crash. In two remarkable duets, first for Beth and the driver, then when the driver tells the boyfriend what happened, Murphy attempts to recreate Beth’s last seconds. It is nothing less than a painstaking, overwhelming attempt to walk the path to death with a lost lover. For this alone, and James Hewison’s performance as the boyfriend, Without Trace left a very big trace indeed in my mind.