Rambert Dance Company are in town until Saturday with a programme that contrasts childlike innocence with the heavy traumas and conflicts from Tennessee Williams’s adult universe.
There is plenty of historical interest in the evening’s first piece, Merce Cunningham‘s RainForest: this nature study was choreographed in the student protest year of 1968 in collaboration with David Tudor (music) and Andy Warhol (designs), and is being toured by the Rambert (currently one of the few companies licensed to perform Merce’s works) while Merce’s own company’s Legacy tour reaches its final ports of call. In a rain forest consisting of floaty pillows, dancers move with “childlike gentleness”. The movement is minimalist but still defined by the fascinating individuality and nuance of dancers like Pieter Symonds, Eryck Brahmania, Dane Hurst and others.
Following on from RainForest is another nature study: Mark Baldwin’s Seven for a secret, never to be told. Also set in a dreamlike forest (but here vines, instead of pillows), the piece uses sections of Ravel’s beautiful L’enfant et les sortilèges in a special arrangement by Stephen McNeff. Seven for a secret was developed in collaboration with Professor Nicola S. Clayton – Rambert’s scientist in residence – and is based on her conclusions on how a child might view the world. The dancers act playful, mischievous, lyrical and the piece unfolds in short episodes, a sort of “Dances at a Gathering: the Early Years”. They carry Baldwin’s piece with plenty of humour and I admired in particular the graceful movements of Dane Hurst who filled the stage with quick brisés volés and energetic jumps, part bird in flight, part spirit of fire.
In direct contrast to the previous works is Javier De Frutos’s new commission (his third for the company). Elysian Fields is based on the monologue of Tennessee Williams‘s tragic heroine Blanche Du Bois about her husband’s death. While Williams once said dance was “perhaps the last destination where poetry could find a homeland”, De Frutos is concerned with exploring the underlying grit and violence in Williams’s own universe. On a circular stage that recalls the mock bullring from Alonso’s Carmen, the above monologue and short episodes from A Streetcar Named Desire are given on a loop, in a violent tour de force where dancers take turns narrating and performing the choreography.
We see multiple Blanches and Stellas manhandled by Mitches and Stanleys (identities are ambiguous). Despite the fact that the piece feels a bit repetitive in places, there is much to admire in the fluid dancing of Gemma Nixon, the sharp lines of Angela Towler (as Blanche), Pieter Symonds (Blanche too? Or Stella?) and in the superb articulations of Jonathan Goddard. It made me think again of the individuality of the Rambert dancers and I wondered if I would have been as interested in Elysian Fields had it been set on a different company.
I recommend this triple bill to any ballet fans with an interest in semi-narrative dance, especially those who are keen on challenging the preconceived notion that contemporary dance has widely abandoned stories and themes in favour of abstractions in minimalist leotards.
Rambert Dance Company’s triple bill of Cunningham, Baldwin & De Frutos continues at Sadler’s Wells until 19 November 2011. For more information and booking visit Sadler’s Wells website.