Thursday, 31 October 2019

DANCE REVIEW: Rambert: Triple Bill - The Lowry Theatre, Salford.



Rambert is England’s oldest established dance company and its first classical ballet company, having been founded in London at the start of the 20th century by Dame Marie Rambert. Today it is synonymous with the very best in contemporary dance with a company of what must surely be the best contemporary dancers from all over the world.

Tonight’s triple bill featured three very different dance pieces from the 21st century. The first, PreSentient, was choreographed by Wayne McGregor in 2002. This piece opened with a mesmerising solo by Kym Sojourna who formed her body into impossible shapes and twists. This piece started in almost darkness, with barely the silhouette of Sojourna visible until very gradually the lights came on to an intense wash. A screen behind Sojourna started to rise and eleven other dancers, standing still, were gradually revealed – first their bare feet, then their knees until all were present. This piece saw all dancers wear the same shade of lilac clothing – different necklines were worn by male and female dancers and while there was a clear gender differentiation through the costumes, there was a uniformity which suited this piece very well. Different dance styles were shown in this piece, which seemed to represent different emotional aspects. McGregor states that this dance contains “a violent physicality that battles with claustrophobic choreographic structures to create a sense of unresolved, restless apprehension.” Tension was certainly a constant theme. A rather ingenious touch was a postmodern use of functional ballet – some sections saw a slightly more flowing, traditional ballet style taking place in which various pairs or trios of dancers would hold a limb for balance or lift each other. The functionality of a second or third person being used as a support was clear - you can’t do a lift on your own, but he cleverly twisted this into a controlling mechanism when those holding or lifting were trying to prevent the other dancer from getting away. This was a fantastic illusion which was repeated again and again, building a sense of claustrophobia and a need to escape. The ensemble worked mostly in small groupings, with some further solo dances breaking up the ensemble work. Of the three pieces performed tonight, this one struck me the most – the faces of the ensemble were purposefully blank throughout except for one glance over the shoulder to the audience, yet such energy and strong emotion was conveyed. This piece was relentless to the point that it beggared belief that anyone could remember so many complex steps with constant change without any noticeable repetition. McGregor is an inspired choreographer and each and every dancer was simply astounding – I instantly wanted to watch this again to glean more nuances in the work. The music for this dance was taken from Steve Reich and was a pre-recorded tape. Reich’s trademark constant hammering of chords was an apt soundtrack for this piece and a quieter section made a welcome contrast.

After a short break, the second performance of the evening took place. Rouge, which premiered earlier this year, was created by Marion Motin. Motin is known for her work in the music video industry having worked with Madonna, Christine and the Queens and Dua Lipa. This was evident in the second half of the composition.

Rouge opened rather intriguingly with a Mad-Max-esque character on the side of a very smoky stage with electric guitar and amplifier. Guitarist Ruben Martinez improvised scorching melodies on stage over a recorded track. As he moved forward, the smoke moved with him. From this mist, an ensemble of 7 suddenly stood up as if from nowhere. This snappy movement from horizontal to vertical was very slick and then immediately, and rather impressively the ensemble fell to their vertical positions again. From this opening movement, individual dancers would again rise, linger and fall as if rooted to the spot, and as one fell another rose again and again. This opening section was of high impact and showed yet again the immense, almost unearthly talent of the dancers. Each dancer wore strong colours and individualism was seen through the interesting clothes they wore – one appeared to be in a bath robe with a towel around their head. As the piece progressed, the dancers stripped off an outer layer and revealed themselves to be wearing various types of sporting gear – boxing shorts, wrestling shorts, kick boxing outfits all were bright and showed off athletic bodies. This piece contained a lot of unison elements and there were some narrative elements. Molin states that this piece is about finding ourselves, our instinct and nature, and connecting with real bodies and real people. I immediately saw a strong portrayal of youth with the curiosity, confidence, naivety and exploration that is common with university age adults. Couples were formed and intimacy shared, then they split and coupled with someone new – jealousy and heartbreak were clear. At one point, the dancers all became aware of the musician on stage and collectively stared at him. The musician whispers in the ear of the closest dancer and the music and dance changed. I rather amusingly wrote in my notes that at this point the dancers started dancing – of course they were dancing from the very start, but if the dance up until this point was abstract and representational of narrative, emotion and characterisation, after this point the dance was as if the people on stage had walked in to a night club. The style became much more hip-hop, in a stylised way. I thought that this dance within a dance was genius. The piece arched its way back to the beginning with the falling motif briefly taking place towards an abrupt end.

Another break brought us to the final piece of the evening, In Your Rooms, which was choreographed in 2007 by Hofesh Shechter OBE who also composed the music. Shechter has an impressive CV having choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the Batsheva Ensemble, Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet company among others. In Your Rooms started with a voice over espousing philosophical ponderings about chaos, order and tension. Although of the three pieces tonight, this was the most programmatic with the use of text and clear narrative moments, it also felt quite abstract. I got lost in watching it, but this is not a negative point – the scenes almost merged with subliminal thought, dipping into the subconscious. This piece was performed with a live string quartet and percussionist who rather hauntingly appeared to be floating in the top right hand corner of the stage back drop. I had spotted this small band in the pit before the show started but now it really looked as if they were on a platform high up – not so, they were somehow projected there in an extremely realistic way. This piece rolled and flowed with a defining moment when in unison the ensemble, grouped together, punched the air repeatedly. This was quite impressive as many times throughout this piece the dancer’s faces were not visible and sometimes were clearly hidden. In this air-punching moment, expressive faces were clear and decisive.

Rambert presented a very impressive triple bill tonight. The same group of dancers performed all three pieces which, to me, seemed an impossible task given the complexity and extreme physicality of the movements required as well as the immense recall needed. Not only was every step without falter – the quality of dancing was simply phenomenal.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 30/10/19

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