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Broken Chords, The Place, London

By Judith Mackrell

The Guardian, 11 March 2006

The opening scene of Broken Chords gives you every reason to fear that each one of the work’s 90 minutes is going to feel very long and very bleak. Eight, funereally dressed dancers shuffle on to the stage, their slow, sorrowful gait picking a hesitant path through lines of wooden chairs, their expressions of deep mourning underlined by a confessional programme note from director Charlotte Vincent explaining that Broken Chords is a lament for lost love, created out of the blood and guts of her own brutal divorce. However, just when the work seems ready to buckle under the weight of its misery, Vincent suddenly rounds on her dancers, exasperatedly demanding a smile, and the material shifts gear into a satirical commentary on suffering.

Even though Vincent continues to spin images of her own unhappiness, the rest of the cast start acting up wickedly. There is Darren, the baby of the company, who would like to be dancing more jazzy moves; there is cellist Alex Catona who resents having to play whatever happens to suit his director’s mercurial moods. But these internal dramas become absorbing, touching and often very funny. Catona and his violinist partner Patrycja Kujawska are particularly impressive, both of them accomplished actors and dancers as well as fine musicians as they spin their own story of needy competitiveness around the edges of the action.

Given its subject matter, it may be inevitable the show occasionally droops. But for most of it Vincent pulls off a powerful feat – creating a moving portrait of grief while making us laugh.