Review: Rambert Dance Company - New Choreography - Queen Elizabeth Hall

Performance: 31 May 2012
Reviewed by Jeffrey Gordon Baker - Tuesday 5 June 2012

Rambert Dance Company Season of New Choreography 2012. Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon’s 'Heist'.  Photo: Bettina Strenske

Performance 31 May 2012

The standout piece in this bill of four new works choreographed by Rambert dancers stood out so far that it made the other three works look less than fully formed. Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon’s Heist was both the simplest in theme – which undoubtedly contributed to its effectiveness – and by far the most sophisticated. Starting with nervous gestures, performed by Goddard in an interrogating spotlight: the awkward rub of a neck, the twitchy adjustment of a shirt; the piece seemed to increase in claustrophobic anxiety exponentially as it amped up the frenetic energy. Is it possible to scramble with precision? Apparently so. Eryck Brahmania, Estela Merlos, along with Goddard and Nixon themselves, executed a battery of stealthy and impeccably controlled interchanging lifts and scurried exchanges of body and weight that evoked the undercover hijinks of elusive spies or master criminals.

The ultimately rollicking momentum and paradoxically hushed and hidden feeling produced inside of it were accomplished by subtle and clever tricks of placement and a surgical attention to detail. Movements mirrored each other; two dancers scooted along back to back, like they were checking opposite sides of a wall for bugging devices. And the piece was peppered with tiny shifts of focus, turns of the head and ducking motions, invoking the awareness of being surveilled and feelings of paranoid suspicion. Heist was a tight, action-packed feast of choreographic skill, and was as much ingenious fun as a le Carré story.

Despite being danced with the expertise characteristic of the Rambert company, the first piece of the evening, The Window by Dane Hurst was dramaturgically, well, turgid. Depicting the effect of suffocating apartheid laws in South Africa, the piece veered toward melodrama. A clever set design by Nicolai Hart-Hansen comprised of a wooden fence with light glowing hopefully or perhaps ominously through the breaks in the slats, was more effectively metaphoric than much of the movement. Although a bit where a group of protestors gathered around a table (handily made from an extracted chunk of that symbolic fence), alternately banging in outrage and lifting arms in determination, was a spirited representation of community.

It was probably meant to be the point, but the ambivalence in the relationship between dancers Miguel Altunaga and Mbulelo Ndabeni in Ndabeni’s Face Up , was more confusing than intriguing. The piece started off gloomy, fragmented, and we were given no abiding reason to care about these figures, or consequently the fits and starts in their relationship. They postured menacingly, tried to throttle each other and then decided to hug, pacing around fitfully and then dancing in unison, presumably to indicate that things could sometimes be harmonious between them despite the angst. There was an image late in the piece in which one slipped from the other’s embrace leaving an absence, an empty space that was then carried around like an invisible burden, a genuinely tender invocation of the persistence of loss.

Similarly thin in the cohesion department, Viriditas by Patricia Okenwa set to music by Mark Bowden, took place on a stage full of what looked to be polystyrene eggs. The dancers, all female in string snoods and gauzy shifts, came off looking like a coven of stoic post-apocalyptic matrons or a flock of distracted seagulls. Yes, birds were the most enduring reference, the movements of the dancers a bit like penguins or boobies flapping and fretting around their territory. Viriditas was humorous in places, but there wasn’t much emotional connection established between the women, or for that matter between them and their eggs, which at times they took to kicking around rather indelicately.

Jeffrey Gordon Baker took part in this year’s Resolution! Review – The Place’s online magazine which includes reviews of every Resolution! show, by professional dance critics and aspiring writers. An ex-New Yorker, he’s in London studying for a PhD in Aesthetic Theory at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Photos: Bettina Strenske

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