For the last few years, Rambert Dance Company's springtime visits to Sadler's Wells have been one of the highlights of the dance calendar, with a somewhat more exciting programme than that offered in the autumn season: last spring brought us the performances of Paul Taylor's Roses, and Tim Rushton's Monolith; the spring before saw the revival premiere of Siobhan Davies's award-winning Art of Touch. So given Rambert's track record, this programme should have been a surefire success, yet somehow it didn't quite hit the spot.
On the day of the opening performance, Rambert were preparing a time capsule for their new home, and asking people on Twitter and Facebook to share their memories of Rambert for inclusion. For me, Art of Touch was the piece which made me fall in love with Rambert, back in 2010. And while it was easily the most accomplished and polished work of the evening, it was also the one which suffered the most from its setting: it's a piece which is best suited to intimate performances, and to close proximity to the dancers; some of the magic is somehow lost when viewed from a distance.
Baroque music is often used in contemporary dance, but rarely used to such an effect as in Davies's Art of Touch, with complementary costumes and set, with walls of burnished bronze. The choreography was an intricate interpretation of the score, with very fine performances from each dancer, however the piece didn't really develop or progress throughout its somewhat lengthy duration.
While its parts were individually striking, especially Angela Towler's duets and solos, the dancers seemed somehow prevented from domineering the stage the way they should, perhaps due to the lighting, and also due to the small movements in much of the choreography which don't project well. Given the beauty of the work and of the dancers' performances, this was a shame - and a good reason to see this show again at a later date.
The opening piece of the evening was SUB by Itzik Galili, following on from the brightly-coloured high energy of Galili's A Linha Curva. SUB was the complete opposite: a moody restrained work for seven male dancers. It opened with playful tussling, leading to sinuous solos. The tone of the work remained delicate and graceful throughout, an appropriate contrast with the all-powerful "boy bands" of contemporary dance, reminding us that male dancers don't always need to be showing off their strength. At times, SUB seemed to retain some of the spirit of Mark Baldwin's Seven For A Secret, Never To Be Told, with the dancers resembling schoolboys playing games and mock-fighting.
SUB started off with huge promise and swiftly plateaued, however it finally found its stride towards the end, when all of the dancers were in frieze on stage, with one of them at performing a solo at a time. SUB is a piece you want to love, but there's some little thing missing: perhaps it's more cohesion.
The second premiere of the evening was Mark Baldwin's What Wild Ecstasy, a reworking of Nijinsky's Apres-midi d'un faun, which was also performed. 2012 has been a very Faun-filled year so far, from Sergei Polunin's deplorable performance in Ivan Putrov's Men In Motion, to English National Ballet's somewhat bland but far better performance - and now with Dane Hurst as the Faun, surely the ideal choice for an animalistic otherworldy creature. Rambert's dancers are renowned for imbuing their roles with personality, and so Hurst's Faun, Pieter Symond's Nymph and the accompanying nymphs were far more vivid and engaging than in previous performances.
Henrietta Horn's Cardoon Club had been mentioned several times prior to the performance, and perhaps aptly, for Mark Baldwin's What Wild Ecstasy could be seen as a natural successor to Cardoon Club's eccentricity. With three enormous wasps hovering overhead, Rambert's dancers were in a myriad of bad-taste clubbing outfits, creating the imagery of a Faun and Nymph. Using the percussion and the wildness of the music and repetition, it seemed evocative of something primeval, with scenes suggestive of ritual coupling and/or partnering. And at the last minute, What Wild Ecstasy reworked the closing scene of Faun.... with lots of little yellow balls tumbling from above. Oh yes.
While the majority of the works in this programme are not the finest works we've seen performed by Rambert, the performances from the dancers were breathtaking, with Jonathan Goddard's performances standing out in each piece. Given the vast repertoire of the company, and the wide repertoire they tour each season, a few disappointments are perhaps to be expected - but for the dancers' sakes, we hope their upcoming seasons are filled with many works far more worthy of them.