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:
Is to leave all, and take the thread of love.
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.
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.
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