Review: Rambert Dance Company – Labyrinth of Love

Rambert Dance Company is thought of as one of the UK’s top contemporary dance company and with their latest Labyrinth of Love tour it is easy to see why. I saw them when they came to visit Bath and also had an opportunity to hear a short talk by their Artistic Director Mark Baldwin and observe Company Class.

Labyrinth of Love

Choreography: Marguerite Donlon, Music: Michael Daugherty

The eponymous piece of the quadruple bill is about women throughout time or, rather, men’s relationships with them. The score was led by Soprano Kirsty Hopkins, masterfully singing various poems, who provided a constant female presence on stage – interacting and influencing the men throughout. As the dancers flirted with ideas of relationships and gender control, their costumes grew more complex and various imagery appeared on large screens in the background. At times this was rather striking – a Georgia O’Keeffe-esque Orchid set alight; rain, or perhaps teardrops, turning to diamonds and then stones.

With regards to the choreography, I particularly enjoyed the physicality of the male sections and overall found the piece, almost ironically, to be more of a showcase of the male dancers than the women. One section I particular enjoyed was “Liz’s Lament” (based on Elizabeth Taylor) and although the line “I see myself being handed from man to man” was taken a little too literally, the section culminated in a superb solo by Pieter Symonds. In fact, Symonds was the only female to replicate the physicality of the male choreography, echoing Dane Hurst’s earler solo; perhaps a suggestion of a modern strong woman? There was another moment of feminine strength when a dancer walked along a line of men placing her feet on the palms of their hands, completely in control.

The piece certainly gave me a lot to think about and a line from the opening segment stuck with me afterwards:

Yet that which must my troubled sense doth move //
Is to leave all, and take the thread of love.

Dutiful Ducks

Choreography: Richard Alston, Music: Charles Amirkhanian

Set to a beat poetry soundtrack this piece was a short showcase for a single male dancer (Dane Hurst). Little recurring motifs such as an entrechat six, entrechat quatre made the piece rather playful, yet sharp slaps on the arms kept it grounded and real.

Exciting and fun, yet serious, this showed what a high-calibre dancer Hurst is. Leaping and bounding about the stage with sharp changes in direction, all eyes were on him and the audience was gripped. One small movement in particular stood out: his glissades à la seconde to a fondu had such a juicy quality that I sat in awe. Superb.


Choreography: Merce Cunningham, Music: David Tudor

Having never seen a Cunningham piece before, I was unsure what to expect by Sounddance. To say it was an eye-opening experience would be a gross understatement.

Dane Hurst in Cunningham's Sounddance (Photo credit: Chris Nash)

By deconstructing ballet technique to concentrate on ‘movement’ rather than ‘dance’, Cunningham appears to ask you to consider the dancers not as people, but as entities. A lone dancer (Otis-Cameron Carr dancing Cunningham’s original role) starts the piece and gradually eight more join him, their top halves blending into the backdrop to subvert your eyes to their legs and footwork. Whilst the ‘music’ was effective (I believe anything more melodic or musical would have broken the power of the piece) it wasn’t exactly to my taste (a woman in front of me spent the entire piece with fingers in her ears).

There were some truly stunning moments in the choreography during the piece: the first unison motif (two chassés à la seconde followed by a brisé) with our solo entity still an outsider; a slow melding of bodies into a seething mass of limbs; a dancer doing successive entrelacés down the center line as others weave around him.

Watching their company class earlier (lead by an ex-Cunningham dancer) you can see how strong the dancers are at this style. With many having a deep balletic base they throw themselves into the piece, unconstrained by narrative or inhibition. Artistic Director Mark Baldwin spoke at a pre-performance talk about how Cunningham encouraged dancers to “own” the piece, and the Rambert dancers do just that. Personally, my stand out performance of the night and a definite sign I need to see more Cunningham.

Elysian Fields

Choreography: Javier de Frutos, Music: Alex North (adapted by Christopher Austin)

Taking inspiration from Tennessee Williams, de Frutos takes us on a journey to the American South. The curtain raises to reveal a large ring traced out on stage, surrounded by a mismatch of chairs. At times this evokes ideas of a wrestling ring, at others a confessional circle at a support group.

The opening solo (by, I believe, Symonds) is of the latter form, with the character of Blanche Dubois recalling the tale of discovering her husband’s homsexual affair and his subsequent suicide. With a sense of urgency she dances her anguish, whilst recorded dialogue plays. As the piece continues she reprises this solo thrice, Symonds speaking over parts of the dialogue until, finally, she recites the entire thing without the recording. Throughout the piece small snippets of live dialogue by the dancers (or recorded clips by former Rambert dancers Goddard and Nixon) remind us that these are very human characters. However, I feel the spoken stage directions take this concept slightly too far and verges on pretension.

If de Frutos is to be believed, all of Williams’ work is about wife-beating and sex. This allows the company dancers to demonstrate their physicality (something I had noticed in the company class) to great effect. Stage slaps are followed by dancers slamming to the floor, making the preceding violence all the more shocking. The repetition of the violence and anonymity of the dancers, however, makes us almost blasé by the finish. We only ever identify Blanche clearly, with other dancers inhabiting indistinct roles. Overall I enjoyed Elysian Fields, but do feel that it could do with either shortening or greater character development as its power becomes diluted by its conclusion.

A fantastic showcase for the dancers of Rambert, this quadruple bill is an interesting and varied evening of dance. It is clear why Rambert has such a high-profile status in dance and I can’t wait to see more of the company in the future.

Did you catch Rambert on their current tour? What did you think of the pieces? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, keep dancing!

P.S. As a bonus, here is a clip of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancing Sounddance at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Quick Update: ROH, Wrists and Russian Ballet!

So I thought I’d write a really speedy update about what I’ve been up to the past few weeks. Work has been a bit crazy (my advisor wants me to submit my transfer report and do my viva by the start of December! Eek!) but I’ve been fitting in a fair amount of ballet too…

Royal Opera House Student Ambassadors

A month or so ago, the ROH advertised a brand new scheme they were launching: Student Ambassadors. These would be students across the country who would help promote the ROH at their respective university. As soon as I heard about this I immediately started writing my application (covering letter, CV, and 250 words on how I would promote the ROH) and submitted it for consideration.

I was lucky enough to be selected for interview and headed in to London around a fortnight ago. Entering through the stage door (exciting!) we headed downstairs to a meeting room where myself and three other candidates had a 30 minute discussion about how the ROH (and opera/ballet in general) can engage with the younger audience. This was really interesting, not least because some of us were ballet-goers and others opera-goers. All too quickly the ‘interview’ was over and I had absolutely no idea how I had done. Thankfully I had the joys of Osipova and Acosta in Swan Lake that evening to distract me from stressing too much – talk about a fire cracker! Their Act III blew me away – Osipova starting her fouéttés with ten doubles and finishing with a quad, Acosta finishing his variation with a string of lightning-fast pirouettes before opening his passé to an à la seconde and holding it just long enough to tell everyone in the ROH that he was completely in control. Wowza.

The next day I was tutoring all day and finally checked my email late-afternoon to see that I had been selected as an ambassador! I am completely honoured to be chosen and can’t wait to start. I’m off to the welcome event as we speak: a chance to meet some of the publicity/marketing staff at the Royal Opera House, get a tour behind-the-scenes before finally watching the magnificent current Triple Bill (Viscera/Infra/Fool’s Paradise). I saw the Triple on Saturday (and got a chance to meet some new tweeters in the intervals!) and was in awe: all three pieces were amazing but Infra completely blew me away. Such a powerful piece that I cannot wait to see again.

Infra (Photo Credit: Julian Opie's Website)

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep you all updated about my year as an ambassador – and hopefully I can show a few students just how special ballet and opera can be!

Oh, and I was lucky enough to go to the ROH Gala (you can even see a pic of me on the ROH website) – such an amazingly special night! Every performance was world-class, but the absolute highlight for me was the stunning Wheeldon pas de deux, “After The Rain”, danced by the ever-beautiful Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares. Ballet doesn’t get any better than that.

Out of Action

It hasn’t all been good news these past few weeks. Last week I was auditioning for a competition piece with my Uni Dance Soc (more on that below) and headed to a ‘conditioning class’ they were running beforehand. I was a little wary of the fact it was being held in the Uni Club but had been reassured that the floor would be washed from the night before. Unfortunately they had done too good a job on the floor, resulting in an ice rink! After a brief warm up one of the first combinations involved grand battement relevés in center. Unfortunately when attempting one devant my supporting leg decided to meet my kicking leg and I ended up hitting the ground backside-first. Well, it would have been backside-first if I hadn’t put out my hand to try and cushion my fall – not the smartest move.

I hit the ground with a bang (literally) and immediately sprang up to my feet reassuring everyone I was okay. I hit both my ankles and left wrist in the fall and they all felt a bit sore but I was sure they’d feel better in a few minutes. By the end of the class they were still a bit sore but I just ignored that and went to the audition. An hour later and I drove home, wincing slightly every time I had to change gear with my left wrist. A mostly sleepless night and a still-very-sore wrist in the morning meant a call to the Uni doctors to see what they thought. Worried I might have fractured it, they sent me to A&E for an X-Ray. The doctor there was also worried about fractures but, thankfully, the x-ray came back clear so the diagnosis was a bad sprain.

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Unfortunately this means up to two weeks resting – meaning no ballet! I’m taking a week off completely, but hoping to ease back to class next week (though I won’t be doing any partnerwork, that’s for sure!). It’s still rather sore but I can feel it getting better so hopefully it won’t sideline me for too long!

Uni Dance Soc

I mentioned the Uni Dance Soc above and an audition for an upcoming competition in March. Unfortunately I’ve decided to stop dancing with the DanceSoc after the upcoming competition on Dec 1st. Although it would be great to represent my Uni doing something I love, there are a number of factors that have made my mind up. Firstly, work has ramped up a gear and some rehearsals are during the day (namely on Wednesday afternoons when undergraduates have no lectures) which I can’t really do. One of the main factors though is the inconsistency of rehearsals. We might not find out the rehearsal schedule until Sunday night and could be rehearsing any time during the upcoming week. Rehearsals have been as late as 10-11pm and this coming week I have 3 rehearsals on Sunday, each with about a 1.5-2hr gap between them, meaning I can’t really get much work done. It seems almost petty to stop dancing with them because of this but, with an already packed schedule it just doesn’t work. Oh well, I’m sure there’ll be other opportunities in the future!

Russian Classes

Finally, some good news to finish on. I’ve been dancing with the local Russian Youth Ballet Company for a month or two now and am absolutely loving it. The couple who run it push me further than I’ve ever been pushed before and I’ve got the chance to get taught by ex-Principals of a Russian ballet company! On top of that a current Senior Principal of ENB is the patron and comes a couple of times during the year for masterclasses, as well as guest teachers for contemporary too. We’re learning Act II of Swan Lake for a performance in April and the guys are also learning a handful of variations. So far we’ve learnt a couple of Rothbart’s Swan Lake variations, Basilio’s variation from Don Q and the Pas d’Esclave’s variation from Corsaire. I’ve put videos of the last two below to give you an idea of what they’re like – I do quite a bit less pirouettes(!) but they’re definitely the hardest things I’ve ever done!

This week I had to unfortunately sit and watch class/rehearsal rather than take part (I still learnt loads – I’d certainly recommend observing class if you are ever injured) but spoke to the teachers afterwards. They said they’re really pleased with how I’m progressing and I asked if they had any weekly classes I could attend so that I’m not just seeing them every other Sunday. I’m really pleased to say they’ve asked me to join their Advanced (Russian) Ballet classes which meet every Tuesday and Friday for 90 minutes. Not only that, but the class will be performing in the April show (the same one the YBC is dancing in) and they’d really like to include me in the choreography if I join the weekly class! This is the exact opposite to my old school who asked me to ‘take a break’ whilst they prepared for their school show as they weren’t including any boys in it. So once my wrist heals I’ll start heading to their classes and let you know how they go. I really like the Russian style (heavier use of épaulement and port de bras) and feel I’ve progressed so much already, so hopefully I can keep up the momentum!

Well that is it for now, I’ve got to get back to writing my transfer report on the train to London. I’m off tomorrow to see Rambert’s company class in Bath and will be reviewing their performance in the evening so watch out for that in the next couple of days. Oh, and I’m also taking 5 friends (4 of whom haven’t been to a ballet before) to see Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli in Swan Lake on Saturday – I might try to convince them to write a guest post about their first experience of a ballet!

What have you been up to in the last couple of weeks? Anyone started Nutcracker rehearsals yet? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, keep dancing!