Rambert Dance Company, Sadler’s Wells, 20 June 2001
Rambert’s second week at Sadler’s brings a quadruple bill including two premieres which shows the company in fine form. The programme draws several threads of the company’s past and its current aims together. There is a new work from Richard Alston, a former Artistic Director of Rambert, an undertaking which seems a very public reconciliation with his old company; Glen Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire, originally performed by Rambert in the 60s; and, demonstrating Rambert’s role in commissioning new work from emerging and established choreographers, a new work from Wayne McGregor and a revival from Siobhan Davies.
This performance was the premiere of Alston’s Unrest, for three couples, set to Arvo Part’s Fratres. The designs were very stark and simple: a bare stage with sharp lighting casting strong shadows. The dancers wore white, grey or black, with Elizabeth Old looking by far the most chic all in black. There’s quite a bit of trademark Alston movement in this – scything arms cutting great arcs through space. It was a characteristically contained, reticent work, carefully put together. Alston, in his programme note expresses his pleasure at working with the company again and describes his choice of music as filled with strong but understated emotion. I thought the understatement perhaps got the better of the emotion. However, I often find myself wishing Alston would let himself of the leash a bit more. It was elegant and poised, but cool. A short item, about 15 minutes, it didn’t outstay its welcome.
Siobhan Davies’s Soundings was first performed by the company in 1989. The music for this piece, Okaganon, was by a composer unknown to me, Giacinto Scelsi. It was for harp, double bass and tam tam. It involved all kinds of tapping and scraping as well as playing, but the effect was not at all noisy or chaotic, but very controlled and precise with a very spare almost Japanese effect. It was very meditative: and the dance fitted it very closely. We saw the dancers through a gauze as if they were distanced from us. Davies built up small groups into odd and delightful sculptural units, carefully placed, like rocks in a Zen garden. It was another cool work, but quite different in its more intricate detailing than the Alston piece.
This review now takes a detour. I enjoyed the two opening pieces, though the effect of the two together was perhaps a little austere. In the interval, in the shop I was distracted by a group of six people or so, demanding details of the harassed but very polite staff. ‘Does it liven up at all in the second half’ a young woman was asking. ‘Does it get any better ? I mean, is there a story or anything ? I wanted something a bit more funky’ (pointing to the poster of Rooster). Having established that Rooster was the week before, they all decided to leave and go off for a drink. Now I suppose a lot of committed dance fans will be tut-tutting to themselves, or wondering why people don’t check what they are going to see when they buy their tickets. But I suspect the people I saw won’t be coming back to see a dance performance again, and that’s a shame. I record this because, although there a lot of people out there with a keen interest in dance (and the first two items had been well received), attracting new audiences is still a priority: and it’s not an easy job.
But back to the performance. Pierrot Lunaire was revived by Rambert last year. The music here is Schoenberg, which I don’t find very easy, but does seem to fit with Tetley’s subject very well. Martin Lindinger was the white faced clown, with Branden Faulls (in fine form) as his antagonist and Deirdre Chapman as Columbine. The shifting relationships are creepily compulsive and Lindinger is very effective as a creature both of liveliness and pathos. This must be a really punishing work to dance, and the dancers gave very committed performances.
Wayne McGregor’s Detritus, which rounded off the evening, looked a real hit, fizzing with energy and invention, performed with real enthusiasm. The music is electronic, pulsating. There is a cast of thirteen, costumed in red. A strange metal sculpture hangs above the stage: a huge insectoid limb, malevolent and unsettling, which shifts position (perhaps rather too often) and adds an air of oppression to the proceedings.
McGregor has chosen to use a wider dance vocabulary than before. Four of the women are on pointe, and there are some sections of more formal partnering – but this is not a ballet. In terms of influences, there seemed to be an unusual mixture of Forsythe (think of the girl in red in Steptext) and, oddly, Macmillan. The girls with pointe shoes are sometimes slid or dragged across the floor and then lifted by two men, or passed between them - this would seem familiar to anyone who’s seen Manon recently. But by referencing other choreographers, I do McGregor a disfavour – whatever he’s been influenced by he has absorbed but definitely given his own spin on it. Some of the same-set duets in this work were quite unusual. The central trio (Ana Lujan Sanchez, Rafael Bonachela and Paul Liburd) were outstanding.
It was a very confident and polished work, and managed to suggest a much larger cast than the actual numbers employed, as if waves of them were about to skitter across the stage at any moment. The ending was very well handled: building up into a pulsating finale, but then dying away to leave the central female figure alone on stage. A really rousing closing item, great fun, and wildly applauded. I think you should tell your friends to go, but warn them that the funky stuff doesn’t come along till the end.