The choreographer Darshan Singh Bhuller has a cinematic eye. Planted Seeds opens like the title sequence of a film, each of the nine players emerging from a back door for a brief introductory vignette. Then we pull back for a scene-setting shot: it’s the stage door of a rock concert, with punters marshalled by a hefty bouncer, chillingly portrayed by Bob Smith. Bhuller made Planted Seeds in 1998 following a trip to war-ravaged Sarajevo; U2 had just performed there, and Bhuller took up the theme of youngsters whose coming-together at the concert masks a society riven by ethnic violence.
the door becomes the dread threshold to imagined scenes of torture and rape
Even as the ensemble burst into an exuberant folksy dance, Smith’s casual pistol-hands make us hear gunshots in the pounding musical rhythm – menacing intimations of how readily a fuzzy idea of “folk” bleeds into a more divisive, hidebound “ethnicity”. The next and most powerful scene starts and finishes with a woman hanging in a cell. She’s joined by three others as Smith morphs seamlessly from doorman to prison gatekeeper. He picks the women off singly, taking them out through the back door, which becomes the dread threshold to imagined scenes of torture and rape. The brutality is realised through nuanced, finely crafted choreography; Gorecki’s soaring music is an effective accompaniment to this searing scene.
There follows a scattering of episodes held together by a central motif of a couple divided by war, groups of whisperers planting seeds of discord into their lives. The stage almost becomes a split screen, the lovers set against a backdrop of parallel lives: fugitive figures stealing rations, a man chatting into his phone, people bathing. Though Bhuller deploys his mainstream modern-dance style inventively, this half of the piece lacks the choreographic drive of the opening, which saps force from the shocking denouement. But even where it falters, the piece is carried by some highly charged performances.