Review: Rambert Dance Company - Rambert Event - Rambert Building

Performance: 28 June, 5 & 12 July 2014
Reviewed by Josephine Leask - Saturday 28 June 2014

Lucy Balfour and Quinta. Photo by Tony Nandi.

Jeannie Steele’s staging of excerpts from Cunningham works for Rambert is faithful to the ethos of Merce Cunningham’s site-specific performance events, which challenged the conventions of viewing dance on the proscenium stage.

In Rambert’s Event, members of the company dance simultaneously in two different studios at their new home on the South Bank. The audience is free to travel between the studios and also to move round the edges of dancers’ space in order to view them from multiple perspectives. As the choice of where we want to watch is ours, each one of us can indulge in our own personal performance experience. Such viewing conditions activate, challenge and empower the audience and it’s a seductive way of seeing the new building.
In the first space, the larger Marie Rambert Studio, long panels designed by Gerhard Richter hang from the roof – emphasising the impressive dimensions of the studio in a frenzy of grey, red and blue blotchy colour. Here there is a more theatrical atmosphere created by the panels, scale of the room and the darker lighting than in the smaller Anya Linden studio upstairs. Casually casting off their rehearsal clothes to begin, revealing Richter unitards, the dancers connect with the visual setting but co-exist with the music. Musicians come and go with the same structured casualness as the dancers but while the ambience might be relaxed, the rigor of all the performers is fierce.

Upstairs it’s lighter and more intimate; the shorter green Richter panels suspended from the ceiling, gently sway like a giant mobile. Here we are much more intimate with the dancers and it’s an immersive experience, especially when they perform solos or duets. Cunningham choreography is designed to be viewed close-up; the intricate foot work, the various subtle extensions and bends of the upper back and torso, the shifts of weight are often missed in a large theatre.
To witness such finely-tuned bodies up close and from different angles is both wonderfully revealing and uncomfortably intense. While even members of the audience are on show and walk awkwardly from place to place, the dancers are almost too exposed and there’s no place to hide. I notice the quiver of lips and an anxious glance as they execute some tricky balance or lift. It’s challenging for the performers to remain unphased by the close proximity of the audience, especially when they are in frozen poses, but they do. Release from the tension comes from eye contact they make with each other, a smile or a sudden exit.
Concentration and technique is faultless and being so involved in a solo or duet is a rare treat as is the case when watching one of Dane Hurst’s solos. I feel I can sense his brain processing information and sending out physical signals to other parts of his body as he slowly shifts from a plié to an extended balance, then into a series of leaps.

What’s curious about seeing Cunningham work in this intimate context is that the dancers give it a softer, more fluid and human quality. While the Rambert performers embody the spirit of Cunningham, they put their own stamp on it.

Catch the Rambert Event on 5 & 12 July, more info here:

Josephine Leask is a lecturer in Cultural Studies on the BA (Hons) degree course at the London Studio Centre and London correspondent for The Dance Inside.

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