Review: Rambert - Dutiful Ducks / Four Elements / Rooster / Sounddance - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 20 - 24 May 2014
Reviewed by Lara Hayward - Thursday 22 May 2014

Rambert in Lucinda Child's 'Four Elements'. Photo: Bettina Strenske

After successfully nesting into their swanky new South Bank premises, Rambert have flown back across the river to perform revivals of work by four major contemporary choreographers – Richard Alston, Christopher Bruce, Lucinda Childs and Merce Cunningham – at Sadler’s Wells.

Taking its visual cues from Alice in Wonderland, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and an occultist lair, Lucinda Childs’ Four Elements is a macabre first offering. Split into four – Water, Earth, Air and Fire – each section presents a permutation of the group of eight dancers.

Cloaked in a variety of individually patterned unitards (four types of tartan, two covered in playing cards, one domino, and one echoing the skeleton on a ‘Death’ tarot card) they conduct angular movements, lunging and turning on a repetitive basis to trigger each other into repeating the sequence.

Water is easily the most remarkable. At times it felt like I was watching only one person in a fairground Hall of Mirrors – each dancer a reflection of the other, but not in the way your brain might expect. The next three ‘elements’ were performed slickly, but the samey nature of the steps effectively blurs them into one.

It was the first time I’d seen Childs’ work and although initially intrigued by the surreal start, I was left a little dumbfounded. Without Jennifer Bartlett’s eerie costumes and artistic backdrops, and Gavin Bryars unsettling score, I’m not sure what the movement would have to say. The one exception takes place at the end. Only the dancer dressed as death remains. As she distractingly slinks towards the back of the stage, I’m not prepared for what comes next.
Hundreds of playing cards fall from above and hit the stage floor like sinister confetti. Possibly a nod to Voltaire**, it’s a reminder that there is only one certainty. Death holds the cards and decides when they must fall.

Thankfully Rooster was up next. No big statements in this, just energy, flair and the crowd pleasing choreography of Christopher Bruce. Remembering the first thrill I experienced from Bruce’s conflation of contemporary dance with music by the Rolling Stones some 16 years ago, I was looking forward to seeing it again.

Preening, peacock(erel)ing men in velvet jackets peck their way across the stage, chests puffed out, all bravado, while the women shimmy and shake around them, sometimes interested, sometimes not. Dane Hurst is full of powerful angst in Paint it Black. The momentum of his extended looping figure of eight arms into explosive leaps contrasts beautifully with Antonette Dayrit softer expression in Ruby Tuesday. Poster-boy Miguel Altunaga comes into his own as lead in Sympathy for the Devil, building up throughout to a rhythmic ending that is comicly spot on.

Rooster is still hip, amusing and timeless. In Christopher Bruce’s sublime interpretation of his youth, everyone can recognise part of their own experience of growing up. It successfully crosses popular culture, inviting those not previously fussed about contemporary dance, warmly into the art form. A neighbouring audience member states that “it looks so dated” but it still feels thoroughly modern to me (perhaps helped by the unflinching longevity of the Stones and their iconic songs). One can only hope for the day where their music and this dance are performed live together.

Richard Alston’s Dutiful Ducks consists of a short pacey solo that is a perfect match for Charles Amirkhanian’s scattergun text sound piece. Again, Dane Hurst is urgent, frantic yet under control as he whips about the stage keeping impeccable time and form with the unusual score. It’s a tiny burn on my memory in the grand scheme of things, but one that I would like to recall.

Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance finishes up. I haven’t yet acquired a taste for Cunningham, but I did find this work entrancing visually. Reams of gold drapery shroud a single entrance to the stage, from which the dancers fly through, one after the other, like bees entering a luxuriant hive.

Alien-like, they buzz around industriously, interacting with each other on an ad hoc basis, constantly regrouping to reach the next aim. Such was the strangeness of their movements and their white/gold ensemble – seemingly born from the same cloth as the drapes – I couldn’t help but think that Sounddance could inspire the production team of Dr Who, should they ever want to create a new species. Similarly, the frustrating soundtrack of white noise interspersed with idle radio tuning certainly felt like it belonged in the Tardis.

In Sounddance, Cunningham strives to completely deconstruct choreography and put it back together with the help of anarchists. It’s challenging and therefore still relevant, but it’s also a hyperactive and discombobulating watch.

The brilliance of Rambert is that they can take on the work of any choreographer and perform it with conviction and vigour. Overall this mixed bill is a complex treat.

Continues at Sadler’s Wells until Sat 24 May Limited tickets available

Lara Hayward is a freelance dance, sport and travel writer. Find her on Twitter @auspiciouspixie

Photos of Rambert in Lucinda Child’s Four Elements at Sadler’s Wells by Bettina Strenske

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