Review: Rambert Dance Company in Roses / Monolith / Cardoon Club at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 24 - 28 May 2011
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 27 May 2011

Rambert Dance Company. Paul Taylor's 'Roses' in rehearsal. Photo: Chris Nash.

Reviewed: 24 May 2011

This regular spring season at Sadler’s Wells fizzed with celebratory excitement, not just in the buzz of corporate support that filled the mezzanine spaces thanks to Citibank’s sponsorship of this opening night, but through a demonstration of the company’s dance diversity, since three more different contemporary works would be hard to imagine. The fact that this repertory didn’t all work is not a matter to be unduly criticised but a consequence of a risk-taking approach to programming that is to be admired.

The problem piece was the (too) long opener Cardoon Club, by Henrietta Horn: a work cut from the cloth of an earlier piece – enigmatically entitled Artichoke in the silver lake – that I believe is even longer, made for the Pina Bausch Festival in 2004. It is infused with a sense of jazzy nostalgia, complete with a big cast, beaded curtains, 1970s-style music (with the sounds of a Hammond Organ often to the fore) and outrageous hair and fingernail extensions (the latter of Edward Scissorhands proportions). Although it has an abundance of style, there is nowhere near enough substance to drive Cardoon Club for the full 50 minutes, and it became wearisome long before the end. Both the skilful elegance of the large ensemble of Rambert dancers and Benjamin Pope’s fun-filled score worked hard to keep the momentum flowing but the choreography appeared to be little more than a scattered series of disassembled ideas. I felt that it needed the expressionist tanztheater projection of Pina Bausch’s own dancers to bring something more than dance to this particular nightclub.

In contrast, the final two works were made to be danced by Rambert: the first as a reconstructed revival of Paul Taylor’s classic Roses and the second, a new work for the company by Danish Dance Theatre’s Director Tim Rushton. We see far too little of Taylor’s work in the UK and so this commission to recreate Roses, danced to Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, is very special. The work is a romantic lullaby to love, in the form of six couples, the last of whom appears only in a final coda that somehow emphasises and confirms the ravishing lyricism of the earlier group pas de deux, almost as if a heart has been quickly drawn on the back of a love letter. Taylor makes the poetry in his choreography work harder by clothing his women in full-skirted dresses and he seasons the classical base with unusual flavours such as one couple rotating over each other in a series of one-armed cartwheels. Baroque influences were in vogue at the time that Taylor originally made Roses in the mid-1980s and elements of baroque gesture and style punctuate the movement, adding to the perception of watching a series of moving sculptures.

Rushton’s Monolith was made specifically for this tour and it is an excellent addition to the Rambert repertory. The work has been inspired by places of monumental significance and the designs (by Rushton and Charlotte Østergaard) provide a Stonehenge-style landscape that slots the dance into images of ritual gathering, celebration and work. Dancers respond energetically to the requirements for rippling torsos, long extensions and deeply arched backs but none more so than Jon Goddard and Pieter Symonds, their bodies in sympathetic concord, sliding across and around each other like two majestic serpents. Their stunning duet enabled the evening to end on a significant high.

This is an exciting time for Rambert, Britain’s longest-lived dance company as it celebrates it’s 85th year. The anniversary is being appropriately honoured with gifts – in both money, with over £18 million now raised towards its new dance centre at the heart of London’s South Bank (an amount so close to the target of £19.6 million that diggers will soon start cutting the earth in earnest) – and accolades (the company took two of the Critics’ Circle’s National Dance Awards, earlier this year). Mid-way through its octogenarian years, this annual spring health-check at Sadler’s Wells shows that Rambert is clearly in excellent shape.

Rambert Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells until Sat 28 May 2011

- and in with a different programme from 15 – 19 Nov 2011

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