You might think a tale about forbidden love and bioethics would be a shoe-in for a good story, especially if you sprinkle in some gender role reversals and five masterful movers.
But the Bettmann dance company’s adaptation of Dylan Thomas’s story, originally entitled “The Doctor and the Devils,” still manages to fall flat. The piece wanders through dark territory as it traces the story of anatomist Dr. Rochelle Rock and her controversial decision to buy dead bodies from men suspected to be murders. (Intense, right?) At the outset, it appears to be a compelling piece for a dance company to adapt; it seems only natural that a story about an anatomist should realize itself through a movement-based art. But as the story itself suggests, apparently appearance isn’t everything.
The choreography, though at times transformative, suffered from its repetitiveness. Though the dancers themselves moved with impressive control and fluidity, their scenes relied too heavily on such banal leitmotifs as swaying from side to side. And unfortunately, the story’s protagonist, danced by Emily Horton, suffered the most from these uninspired master gestures. Often it seemed that dancers were merely offering a visual accompaniment to a book on tape rather than a movement-based adaptation of it.
Regrettably the soundtrack added little emotional flair to the piece. Though the musical selections Bettmann showcased were charged with emotional intensity, they lost their clout when paired next to the uninspired recording of the text that underscored most of the piece. And unfortunately a boisterous show in the neighboring Bodega theater often overpowered everything anyway.
But the scenes between the forbidden lovers Jenny and Mr. Murray (played by Rachel Merga and Robert Bettmann, respectively) were stirringly redemptive. A duet of theirs in the first half of the show, underscored by recorded text, was the only moment in the piece where movement convincingly enhanced and transformed Thomas’s work. Even the negative space between them shivered with their chemistry.
Overall the piece is interesting, if underdeveloped. Perhaps by the time the company reaches its first anniversary, their work will feel a little more sophisticated as well.
All Good Men
Adapted by Robert Bettmann from a story by Dylan Thomas
Produced by Bettman Dances
Reviewed by Miranda Hall