Review: Rambert Dance Company - Labyrinth of Love / Roses / Dutiful Ducks / Sounddance
Labyrinth of Love / Roses / Dutiful Ducks / Sounddance
Reviewed: 16 October
Five months on from their previous opening night in London, Britain’s oldest dance company returned to the Wells with another quadruple bill, fitting what seems to have become the current formula of something old, something new and something borrowed.
The programme kicked off with the “new” in the London premiere of Marguerite Donlon’s Labyrinth of Love (having opened just five days earlier at The Lowry, Salford). At the heart of this work is a cycle of seven songs, performed live by a soprano (Kirsty Hopkins) intermingled on stage with the fourteen dancers moving and on occasion, being moved among them. The song cycle (by Michael Daugherty) is taken from random poetry and prose written by, or about, women over almost three millennia (from Sappho circa 600 BC, to the musings of film star Elizabeth Taylor in the late 20th century). The words are occasionally very touching and sad but their impact was diminished by a lack of clarity (seated in the first circle, we tended to catch only isolated flurries of verse) and secondly, through there being no discernible relationship between the songs and the choreography.
The second significant element of the piece lay in the powerful and arresting imagery of Mat Collishaw, placing the dancers on a highly reflective black floor and against projections on both the backcloth and a line of plinth-like screens at the rear of the stage. These also acted as platforms for the dancers to perform on, dive off and emerge – sometimes surprisingly – from behind. A close-up of fields, the intimate warmth of a fire and a gentle shower of rain were just some of the images that ran through the work.
The eclecticism of Daugherty’s music across the seven segments seemed to know no bounds as influences ranged from highbrow operatic, through musical theatre to what could have been the theme for an end-of-pier variety show. The early songs gave me the strong – and pleasing – impression of a “dream ballet” sequence from a 1950s Hollywood musical, such as Carousel or Oklahoma ,and the sixth song – based on things said by Elizabeth Taylor about her relationship with Richard Burton – had an arresting poignancy (when the words were clear) especially as we see Estela Merlos being passed from man-to-man as she steps onto their outstretched hands – an image of the eight-times married Taylor (twice, of course, to Burton) that provided a rare moment where the choreography directly connected to the song.
Labyrinth of Love is a beautifully conceived and directed work, visually appealing with a remarkably, diverse and satisfying score. I understand that Donlon is a choreographer who continues to tinker with movement as a piece evolves through performance and with further refinement it has the potential to be a very fine addition to the Rambert repertoire.
The “borrowed” elements of the programme were a further reprise of Paul Taylor’s Roses and a first outing for a revival of Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance, both pieces originally made for the choreographers’ own companies a decade apart, respectively in 1985 and ’75. Unsurprisingly, coming from two of the greatest US-born dance makers, these showcased best-in-class choreography, although I found the lyrical quality of Roses – on a repeat viewing – to tend towards the predictable as the original five couples perform in their disciplined patterns of revolving duets. The formal, almost ritualistic courtliness of their dance is interrupted by incongruous playfulness, such as when women forward-roll across the chests of their partners lying on the floor. The late addition of a sixth couple in white (Angela Towler and Kirill Burlov) brings a well-timed boost leading to a comparatively dramatic and lushly romantic conclusion.
Former Cunningham dancer, Jeannie Steele – now working at the London Contemporary Dance School – has restaged the great man’s Sounddance – with its glorious backdrop of a sumptuous curtain that would grace any of the world’s great Opera houses and its organic, kaleidoscopic vista of dance. The work begins with absence then develops into a lone figure – originally performed by Cunningham himself – before growing into a multiple of dances by ten performers ending with each of them being sucked back into the world behind the ornate curtain. It is a masterful example of pure Cunningham dance that I greatly enjoyed, although these dancers need a while longer to grow into the power, certainty and attack that should be required of them.
This last work was prefaced by the “old” in Richard Alston’s brief capsule of clean, flowing movement contained within Dutiful Ducks , a work he made for Rambert as a solo, in 1982, expanded to a foursome by 1986. Here, Dane Hurst gave a vivacious retelling of the solo, the musicality of his movement finely attuned to the rhythms of Charles Amirkhanian’s spoken verse. It was a refreshing palette cleanser to enable the vital distinction between the vastly different cerebral challenges posed by Taylor and Cunningham. This particular mix of the old, the new and the borrowed provided an imaginative and wholesome programme of dance which should contain something for every taste.
Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.
Photos: Bettina Strenske
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