Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was a dangerous man. Violent and sexually profligate, he murdered a pimp, escaped from prison, and was the victim of a vendetta, dying before he was 40. He was also an artist of penetrating humanity whose mastery of darkness and light influences painters and film-makers to this day. Darshan Singh Bhuller is a British choreographer who, in the course of a wide-ranging career, has created work for many leading dance companies. In 2006 he created Stand and Stare, a piece about the artist LS Lowry for Rambert Dance Company, and in his latest offering, Caravaggio: Exile and Death, he turns his attention to the 17th-century Lombard painter.
Bhuller leans heavily on Derek Jarman’s 1986 film Caravaggio. In particular, he borrows Jarman’s device of a fictional love triangle, in which Caravaggio switches his affections from a young street fighter to the boy’s girlfriend. In a soap-operatic conflation of fact and fantasy, both lovers end up dead, the boy becoming one with the murdered pimp Ranuccio Tomassoni, and the girl doubling as the drowned prostitute whose body served as the model for that of Christ’s mother in the painting Death of the Virgin. Bhuller also borrows Jarman’s calculated use of anachronism: a tableau of a blowsy young Bacchus includes an iPad; back-projected graphics have a computer-game gloss; and Bhuller himself appears on film as a sneering cardinal in sunglasses. All look like desperate measures inserted to beef up a narrative devoid of dramatic juice. Given the facts of the artist’s life, so thrillingly summoned in Andrew Graham-Dixon’s 2010 biography, it would seem difficult to manufacture an evening so lacking in colour, but Bhuller manages it. If you’re hoping for sodomy, throat-slitting and the creative blaze of Quattrocento Italy, forget it. What you get is an hour and a half of quirky….. READ MORE ON THE GUARDIAN/OBSERVER