Rambert Dance Company

Tue 7th – Thu 9th February 2012

reviews

Serena Gosden-Hood

at 17:43 on 8th Feb 2012

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When I left last night to see the Rambert Dance Company, at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, my mental state was a slightly unpalatable combination of skepticism and inadequacy. The former sentiment was induced by the descriptions I had read of the ‘contemporary’ nature of the Rambert’s aesthetic, a term that can never help but carry with it a flavour of the numbingly portentous. The latter sensation was the quite reasonable by-product of my own galactic ignorance on all matters dance-oriented, be it contemporary or otherwise, which naturally gave me a sense of unease about the necessity of reviewing such a production.

The performance consisted of a rendition of three distinct pieces from the company’s spring repertoire. The first was ‘Roses’, a self-professedly unsentimental depiction of romantic love, set to music by Wagner and choreographed by Paul Taylor. The curtain rises over an unset stage illuminated by a misty blue backdrop and populated by five couples dressed in their respective male and female uniforms (sleeveless, black full-skirted dresses for the women and grey trousers and tops for the men). At once the couples begin to dance, sometimes as a cohesive ensemble and sometimes with a single pas de deux taking centre stage. I was struck at first by the suggestion of a deliberate and laborious clumsiness in the choreography that, increasingly, I found to be systematic. The couples seemed to be quite consciously going through the motions, sometimes lapsing into brief episodes reminiscent of formulaic courtship dances from bygone eras. However, periodically, this tepidly ritualistic aesthetic was punctuated by moments of graceful and apparently spontaneous transcendence. The effect produced was one of refreshing and cleansing romantic honesty, devoid of the soggy sentimentality that so often pervades any depiction of attachment. These were, quite simply, ordinary couples going through the stages of their ordinary relationships with their highs and lows and predominant routines. There was no attempt to obscure the often arbitrary and uninspiring reality of romantic associations, neither was there an undue pessimism about their nature or sustainability. The aesthetic climaxed into the cohesive when a couple in white appeared to take centre stage and demonstrated a concentrated grace and lilting sense of oneness that, nonetheless, bore some of the hallmarks of the ensemble’s choreography. The effect produced was one of aspiration without absurdity, authentic romanticism rather than inane sentimentality, and the notion that there is something still to be aspired to that does not diminish the validity of what one might already possess.

The second piece was entitled ‘Seven for a secret, never to be told’ and consisted of a series of depictions of scenes and activities from childhood. The scenery was suggestive of a bucolic woodland space with lush greenery hanging from the rafters and a vibrant green covering over the stage. Props were used on occasion, including a tea-set, a picnic blanket and a number of toys, all of which were worked cohesively into the choreography. The effect of a world populated solely by children, and depicting only childish pursuits and patterns of behaviour, created an impression reminiscent of a hybrid of Neverland and the fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers. True to the unrefined and unedited nature of the childish mentality, the aesthetic of the dances was consistently one of frank and free physicality. The movements of the dancers ranged from the impish to the grotesque with a complete lack of repression in body language, a choice that seemed to perfectly capture the inadvertent solipsism of childhood. Some of the episodes were even punctuated by moments of menace, such as the doll’s tea party scene where one little girl pecks at her companion’s doll with a rather sinister giant crow that, inexplicably, constitutes one of her playthings. The piece allowed for the full gamut of childish impulses, from the energetically benevolent to the arbitrarily mean-spirited, and, in doing so, it offered one of the more authentic depictions of innocence that I have ever had the pleasure to witness on stage.

The final piece was entitled ‘Monolith’, a testimony to the greatness of the human spirit, set to some agonizingly beautiful music by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. The dancers were dressed in a stylized version of Bronze Age garments and the backdrop was that of a blue dawn breaking across distant mountains, offering a subtle but pungent symbolism. The aesthetic of the dance could perhaps best be described as savagely numinous with, nonetheless, a strong emphasis on the participation of the human body, an impression that was accentuated by the manner in which the golden lighting seemed to irradiate the outline of every taught muscle. I left the theatre feeling as if I had just witnessed the finer philosophical elements of an Ayn Rand novel being transmuted into dance, without any of the unpardonable silliness that populates so much of that author’s writing.

The recently, and beautifully, renovated Theatre Royal presented a pleasing setting for this compelling and, at times, majestic production. Speaking with all the fervency of a bewitched and beguiled amateur I would encourage anyone with, or without, a background in dance to go and see the Rambert before they continue on their tour.

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