Feature: Free ranging Rooster

Wednesday 8 July 2015 by Lise Smith

Rambert's Adam Blyde and Miguel Altunaga in 'Rooster'. Photo: Tristram Kenton

With its soundtrack of vintage 1960s Rolling Stones hits, Rooster is one of Britain’s best loved contemporary dance works. It was the perfect choice for a summer festival gig at Latitude earlier this year, in the capable hands (and hips) of Rambert – and returns to Sadler’s Wells in London this week (3 – 7 Nov). We spoke to choreographer Christopher Bruce and rehearsal director Mikaela Polley about the creation of the work nearly 25 years ago and how it still resonates with audiences today…

“I walked into the studio with the first track Little Red Rooster, and I made a dance which was made up of gesture – little gestures, brushing the hair back, straightening the tie,” recalls Bruce of the beginnings of Rooster. “Just through these gestures I developed a dance, a strutting cockerel in the farmyard, a beautiful young man in his brightly-coloured about to go out for an evening. It reminds me of those days in my teens when I would go through the same process.”

Firmly set in the mid-1960s to a soundtrack of classic Rolling Stones songs, Rooster is a celebration of a very particular time and place. “It’s a celebration of the music, and it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at sort of the sexuality of the time, the battle of the sexes if you like.” says Bruce. The piece features preening men and gorgeous women, all costumed by Bruce’s wife Marian, competing playfully for one another’s attention with sinewy, club-inspired dance moves. “It reflects on how men and women react to each other, certainly at that time. You have to remember it was made such a long time ago, this piece – relationships with women have changed a great deal!” laughs Bruce.

The piece is also a love-letter to the Stones early heyday, featuring tracks recorded between 1964 and 1968. “I’ve grown up with this music as part of my teenage life and early 20s – I love the music,” explains Bruce. Around 1989, the choreographer started to think about putting together a suite of songs which might be used to structure a dance piece celebrating the music and spirit of the Swinging Sixties.

The work came to fruition with an invitation from Gradimir Pankov, Artistic Director of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, to create a new work for the company. “He asked me what I’d like to do, so I said I’d actually like to do a piece on the Rolling Stones, and he said Chris you’re crazy but go on!” The piece was premiered in Geneva in 1991, and was presented by Rambert for the first time in 1994.

The production hit a roadbump when former Stones manager Allen Klein’s company ABKCO initially refused the rights to use the music. Fortunately that situation was resolved and the piece has been performed worldwide by seventeen classical and contemporary companies including Rambert, Houston Ballet and London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Sir Mick Jagger has professed himself a fan of the work: “He came to opening night at Sadler’s Wells, and was very generous in his support of the piece,” says Bruce. “It was wonderful to have him come and see the production and meet the dancers.”

Has the piece evolved over the last quarter of a century? “When I start working with my dancers I respond to little nuances and I develop the dance according to the quality I see in the artists I’m working with,” says Bruce. “When another company, another set of dancers performs the work there will be certain details about the way a new dancer takes on the role that I will allow to develop too. So although the choreography is the same, each member of the cast will be a little bit ‘other’ – and every performance too. That’s what I love about live art, you can see a dance over and over again and you see something new in it every time you see it.” The Waterfront Stage has the added benefit of being open on all sides, giving the opportunity to see the work from new angles.

The dancers who are performing at Latitude are well practiced in their roles, as they’ve been touring the piece since its revival last year. “They have really got into their characters and master the technical challenges of the choreography,” says rehearsal director Mikaela Polley. “And any new dancers who join the company are always coached by Christopher Bruce. I work alongside him in all rehearsals so that I can continue to rehearse the work and help develop the dancers, keeping the work looking fresh and vibrant.”

Latitude’s open-air Waterfront Stage typically attracts a wide cross-section of arts lovers, some of whom will be new to contemporary dance. What does Bruce hope these new audiences might take away from the work? “With any audience with my work I hope they just engage with it, enjoy the movement, enjoy the spirit of the work,” he says. “I just hope they come and have fun and enjoy the piece, that’s what it’s about. And I hope the weather holds!”

Love, art and rock’n‘roll – Rambert at Sadler’s Wells, 3 – 7 November www.sadlerswells.com

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher who writes about dance for many publications, including Londonist & Arts Professional. Find her on Twitter: @lisekit

Photos: Tristram Kenton

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post comments.

Sign in now

What’s On