Rambert Dance performed at the Festival Theatre in Adelaide, on 30th March as part of their tour of New Zealand and Australia. This was the first tour of Australia since the 1947/49 tour, which was scheduled to run for three months but lasted for eighteen. The local press has featured several articles about the history of the company. Most feature the same quote by artistic director Christopher Bruce "We have always had a strong contingent from Australia, and that goes back to the roots of our 1948 visit when so many of our dancers stayed on in Australia and became the foundation of the modern dance there".
This Australian tour featured a triple bill, consisting of "Meeting Point", "Gaps, Lapse and Relapse" and "Rooster". For the New Zealand leg of the tour, "Ghost Dance" replaced the centre piece; it is the opinion of this reviewer, that Australia should have seen "Ghost Dance" too; the Australian Dance Theatre have (apparently) performed "Ghost Dance" and thus the work would be familiar to Australian audiences. The fact the late Jeremy James, the creator of "Gaps", was Australian born no doubt influenced the decision to include this monumental miscarriage of dance.
For those that have never visited Adelaide, let me describe something of the very forgiving local audiences. The city, often touted as "The Athens of the South" on account of the biennial Festival Of Arts, is extremely culture starved. It is extremely rare for an international or Australian act to visit the city on tours of Australia. For many years, the lack of a suitable venue was touted as the reason. So the city responded, firstly building the Festival Theatre complex (four theatres of different sizes) and the Entertainment Centre (size of an indoor athletics stadium). Still touring acts don't visit the city.
While there is a thriving community of local artists, there is no local ballet company, and the three major Australian companies (Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet and West Australian Ballet) rarely perform in the city. Ballet comes to Adelaide two or three times a year if we are lucky, so when it does, the tours sell out. It has been said that Adelaide audiences will go and see a can of peas being opened. This is not because they are ignorant. No, because nothing ever happens here. Several years ago, it was announced that Adelaide was to get an international airport. It was decided to fly a 747 in to see if the runway was long enough for a landing. 100,000 people turned up to witness the event. But I digress...
"Meeting Point" was politely received by the audience the night that I went. Personally I liked the dancing, but I hated the music. I'm afraid that I am not a fan of Michael Nyman's work. The piece was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter. It opens with the dancers dressed in black suits with long tails. Clearly we are at the ambassadors party (and not a Ferrero Roche in sight!). This piece was choreographed by Christopher Bruce and gives the impression of people dancing at either the royal court or an embassy ball. I very much liked the three ladies solo's the best (maybe this should be a pd3, but since they weren't actually interacting, rather dancing simultaneously, I prefer the term solo). The audience were really taken with Paul Liburd; he looks quite tall and has a strong stage presence. The only dancer that I recognised was Simon Cooper.
"Gaps, Lapse and Relapse"; well a catchy title does not a good dance make to paraphrase someone. To quote from the program "It was my involvement in dance music and its relationship with street and club culture which gave me the inspiration for this piece". So it inspired by a dance club (aka disco) ? I did not see the link, except maybe for the dancers clothes. To me, it looks as though the choreographer had a couple of ideas involving deep lunges, with one hand on the knee, but had trouble linking them together. I found the bland and expressionless faces of the dancers matched the choreography perfectly. The piece was premiered in 1998. To further quote from the program; "What at first seems controversial becomes mainstream and often music is at the frontline during this transformation. It seems only fitting that cutting edge music should be the backdrop for truly contemporary dance". Listening to the music I noticed a huge similarity to two Kraftwerk pieces, specifically "Trans Europe Express" and "The Robots" (Less kind reviewers would say the snatches of music were stolen from Kraftwerk.) "Trans Europe Express" dates from 1975 and "The Robots" from 1978, thus "cutting edge music is some 25 years old. I was very surprised to hear a more positive response from the audience for this piece than for the opening piece. It could be that there were more vocal members in the audience for this second piece, or that Adelaide audiences are very forgiving (they are normally). Personally, I could not wait for the curtain to come down and end my misery. I feel as an audience, we would be better served with "Ghost Dance".
An so finally to "Rooster", another Christopher Bruce piece. This is, by far, the strongest of the three pieces and the audience concurred with my view. Old showbiz adage; if the show is a lemon, go out with a bang. The opening male solo to "Little Red Rooster" (danced by Martin Lindinger), is very dynamic, although I feel that some of the mime lacks subtlety. "My Sweet Lady Jane" (Deirdre Chapman) I found to be quite sexy; there are also some very dramatic moments when the four male dancers toss the lady into the air. "Sympathy for the Devil" is very exciting with the five chaps (Paul Liburd especially) giving a very powerful performance. You could almost feel a link being forged between them and the audience. Paul Liburd featured in "Paint It Black" along with Samantha Smith; call me naive, but this is too obvious. Overall the piece flows very well. There are some lovely links, especially in the way the men play up to the women, only to be thwarted in their attempts to woo. I liked this piece a lot, as did the audience.
After the show, there was a forum with Steven Brett (associate artistic director), Michele Braban (rehearsal director), Elizabeth Old (dancer), Branden Faulls (dancer) and a local dance critic whose name escapes me. They fielded questions from the audience, told of personal experiences with Rambert Dance and entertained the remaining audience with some nice comments. I especially liked Branden's description of the San Francisco Ballet as being a juggernaut. Also him complaining that Martin got more applause than when he danced the rooster the previous night.
Quick summary. One and a half marks out of three, based on the pieces that I enjoyed; I felt a bit shortchanged. Will Australia have to wait another 50 odd years for Rambert Dance to tour again ?