It’s been a couple of years since we’ve caught the Rambert team doing their thing so I thought their Spring Tour would be a perfect opportunity to catch up. Killing two birds with one stone, we also finally got round to visiting the new Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury – I say new, but it actually opened back in 2010. No excuse really, as I normally go to Aylesbury twice a week to see how the Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle is getting on. Verdict? On the plus side, the seats are very comfortable, the sightlines are good from the stalls, parking is easy, and it had a busy and good-natured vibe. On the down side, it’s a bit municipal, and not remotely intimate; there would be plenty of smaller shows that would be absolutely lost in that environment. And the décor inside is….shall we say….individual.
Enough of that, let’s talk about Rambert. Their Spring Tour features seven modern dances, none of them premiered before September 2014, which certainly shows that as a breeding ground for new work it’s doing amazingly well. Our programme showcased three of them, each by a different choreographer, and each with live music – which was played with pizazz and gave an extra dimension of exhilaration to the performances.
First up was The 3 Dancers, choreographed by Didy Veldman. Mrs Chrisparkle and I always used to watch out for her work when we first started seeing a lot of dance about 25 years ago – yikes, where have the years gone! And it’s a pleasure to see she’s still creating great work. The inspiration for this piece came from Picasso’s The Three Dancers, but she also drew on other aspects of his life when creating the content. The music is by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin and reminded me of Philip Glass’s work for the film Koyaanisqatsi – slightly less menacing perhaps, but equally haunting.
Given that it’s called The 3 Dancers, I was amused by the subversion of having six dancers on stage – a group of three in white, shadowed by another three in black. As you transfer your gaze from one group to the other, prompted by the lighting cues, you see the other group finishing off the movement that the first group started, giving it a great sense of flow. Soon the two groups integrate and then break off to form different duets. I was very impressed by the strength and precision of the first duet by Miguel Altunaga and Stephen Quildan, and by the puppet/manipulator characterisation in the second duet by Liam Francis and Daniel Davidson. The choreography was exciting and engrossing to watch, with wide arm and leg gestures stretching out in sweeping rotations. At various points the dancers were joined on stage by what appear to be enormous shards of glass shooting down from the sky. One of them made a beeline for one of the dancers who escaped from its clutches by means of deft choreography. It’s not obvious how those shards relate to the picture; perhaps they represent piercing blows to Picasso’s heart as he reflects on the fates of his three friends portrayed in it. Still, it’s a very stirring and thought-provoking piece, with much pent-up power, and beautifully performed; and it was definitely my favourite of the three items on the programme.
The second dance was The Strange Charm of Mother Nature, choreographed by Rambert Artistic Director Mark Baldwin. It was inspired by a visit to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN – yes science and art can come together – and I believe the dancers represent the particles used in the collider. It’s set, first, to Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks and then Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3; Stravinsky reconfigured Bach’s notes to create his piece, just as the collider takes the particles and subsequently bashes all hell out of them. So you could say that the dance and the music are two ways of expressing the same concept.
Visually it’s stunning, with the dancers wearing a sequence of full-length, multi-coloured bodysuits, and the choreography is athletic, frequently frantic, with the dancers performing both solo and in groups. Whilst it looked great and definitely showed off the dancers’ incredible skills, I nevertheless found it difficult to appreciate the vision of this piece – I couldn’t quite understand what it was all about, even though I had read the programme notes. Sometimes that doesn’t matter – but in this case I eventually decided that the whole didn’t quite add up to the sum of all its parts. I also found the change of music during the dance strangely disturbing. The Bach sounded to me like a musical non-sequitur after the Stravinsky – possibly because it always reminds me of the Trocks performing Go For Barocco, which I’m sure is not the kind of impression Mr Baldwin meant to give. Mrs C disagreed with me and found the whole dance exciting and satisfying throughout.
Our final piece was Transfigured Night, choreographed by Kim Brandstrup to Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. The inspiration for this work is a narrative poem by Richard Dehmel where a woman confesses to her lover that she is pregnant with another man’s child. Nevertheless, her lover forgives her, continues to love her and says he will love the child as his own. The dance is broken into three sections where you see three possible outcomes following a devastating disclosure. The first, concentrating on the fear of being abandoned as a result; the second, where everything is forgiven and forgotten; and the third, a compromise between the two, where despite the relationship being damaged, the lovers continue together as best they can. Or, as Mrs C succinctly put it: Relate, the ballet.
I really enjoyed the concept and the structure of this work, with the desperate couple dancing both together and apart, making clear those moments of support and abandonment, and with nameless hordes of others dancing in the background, doubtlessly spreading rumour or name-calling. Miguel Altunaga and Simone Damberg Würtz were particularly moving as the couple in scenarios 1 and 3, broken up by a less tragic form of choreography for scenario 2, danced by Liam Francis and Hannah Rudd. If I have a criticism it would be that, to me, there wasn’t that great a difference in atmosphere between the situations in scenarios 1 and 3, and dynamic and attractive though it was, by the end of the dance I felt it was a little repetitive. Mrs C had already decided that she’d had a long enough day and decided to snooze out the last half of this particular dance. Personally, I didn’t feel it was snoozeworthy; but I did get her point. I think maybe it would have been better if Transfigured Night and The Strange Charm of Mother Nature had been reversed – you would then have had the slightly more challenging dance in the middle of the evening and the more traditionally crowd-pleasing at the end. But, hey, what do I know?
Rambert’s Spring Tour continues to Aberdeen, Mold and Brighton until March. Innovative, musically rewarding, technically strong, at times challenging – everything contemporary dance should be.
Production photos taken from Rambert’s website.