Rambert Dance Company visits Sadler's Wells twice a year; while their programmes in the early summer often contain some of their finest work, yet again their November programme has been met with hesitant feedback. And on a night which featured two new works, it came as a surprise that the highlight of the evening turned out to be the revival of Merce Cunningham's RainForest.
Merce Cunningham is - was - the dance world's equivalent of David Bowie, using chance to create his pieces, and since 1991, he's had software to randomly generate his dance sequences. Considering that the accompanying music was often similarly created, it's easy to understand why Cunningham has divided audiences for so long.
This was not the case last night; the randomness and abstraction of RainForest seemed to be offset by the warmth of Rambert's dancers and the beauty of their movements. Although not much happened throughout the piece - perhaps to offset the chaos of the music, it hardly mattered as the interactions were so enjoyable to watch, as were the incidental movements. Also, the scarcity of dancers onstage at any time emphasised the quality of the dancers, especially Dane Hurst, whose performance was magnificent.
Seven For A Secret, Never To Be Told is the latest work by Mark Baldwin for Rambert, exploring childhood and our inner children. Earlier this year, BBC had filmed some of the rehearsals for their documentary The Most Incredible Thing About Contemporary Dance; while it left us with the memorable phrase "can you dance that as a blue flame?", it gave little indication as to what the finished product would be like.
The stage resembled a mythical forest, with long fronts hanging down, while the piece itself suggested Enid Blyton's characters at a summer camp. Mark Baldwin's choreography captured the capriciousness, innocence and excitement of children, played out through a series of contrived predictable scenarios.
Again, Dane Hurst's performance was remarkable; he seemed to be most convincing at expressing Mark Baldwin's ideas, and certainly redeemed this piece somewhat. Otherwise, it's hard to enjoy a piece about adults pretending to be children for that length of time, especially when it's lacking in substance.
Substance, however, was not in short supply in Javier De Frutos's latest work, Elysian Fields. Described as being "inspired by the life of Tennessee Williams", in fact the piece sought to explore the seediness and the undercurrents of violence, expressed through snippets from A Streetcar Named Desire: the dancers took turns to narrate Blanche's speech about the suicide of her husband, as they enacted various of Williams's characters in the centre of the stage.
It's a piece where most of the characters are unrecognisable, where misogyny is rife and the women are playthings. Although it was interesting, it wasn't De Frutos's finest work, and it seemed to lose its way after a while.
It was an underwhelming programme from such a well-loved company, and while the simple performances from each of the dancers can transform even a lacklustre piece, the choreography of Seven and Elysian Fields was more restrictive, resulting in few outstanding performances. One of the rewards of watching Rambert - which is probably one of the many reasons for their large loyal following - is the diversity of their programmes, treating audiences to a wide range of choreographers and styles, both from contemporary dance's past as well as present. And it doesn't always work, as we found out tonight.
But they'll be back next May (details) with a triple bill including Mark Baldwin's updating of L'Apres-midi d'un faun, a new work by A Linha Curva's choreographer Itzik Galili - and one of their best works in recent years, Siobhan Davies's Art of Touch. And if their track record is anything to go by, this will be a programme not to be missed.
Review by Chantal Guevara
Rambert Dance Company return to Sadler’s Wells with a notably varied programme: from a work from Merce Cunningham’s repertory, to a highly dramatised piece of choreography, there’s definitely enough to keep you thinking!
Although Cunningham’s Rainforest does not claim to depict a natural habitat or its occupants, to me, the dancers looked as if they had been plunged into the darkest depths of an underwater world. As large silver helium balloons drifted around the stage, they did well to alter the perceived dimensions of the space at the beginning of this piece. I particularly enjoyed the moments when the dancers had to weave in and out of these floating pieces of set, using classic sharply-placed Cunningham footwork, or slice through them with an extended leg. Similarly, the times these balloons partially-eclipsed a still body, fuelling the ‘zero gravity’ feel to this piece.
In complete contrast, Seven for a secret, never to be told by Mark Baldwin called for the dancers to rediscover their child within. Using the opera L’enfant et les sortileges as loose inspiration, this piece explored child psychology and behaviour. Gliding, elevated phrases of movement were performed alongside playful sequences: fake tea parties, play fights and intentionally lolloping leg shakes and frog jumps. A highlight of this work was most definitely Robin Gladwin’s well-characterised solo which wholly depicted a mischievous young boy’s persona. However, it seemed that various sections of movement material were more a reflection of the music, rather than an insight into a child’s world.
The combination of the spectacularly theatrical Streetcar Named Desire soundtrack, thrashy choreography and stunning set worked together to create Javier De Frutos’ Elysian Fields, a piece inspired by Tennessee Williams’ life. Large and regular-sized elaborately-designed chairs were placed around the perimeter of the stage allowing dancers to observe the drama unfolding before them, or to step down into the thick of it. Impressively-honed Southern accents read out lines from the play with the accompanying stage directions, which effectively punctuated the jolted, erratic and at times, violent movement. Although this piece was the greatest exhibition of Rambert dancers’ skills and showmanship, and managed to keep me intrigued throughout, some of the movement was seen a bit too much which took the edge off what was for the most part, a very powerful piece.
Review by Celia Moran