In time for the company’s last performances at Sadler’s Wells tonight, we have below a selection of images taken at the general rehearsal by Alice Pennefather. We also chatted to Mark Baldwin, who is celebrating 10 years as Rambert’s Artistic Director. Mark told us about the diversity of styles being presented in this current bill, ranging from the 100 year old Faun to his brand new piece, What Wild Ecstasy, the only dance work to have been especially commissioned for the Cultural Olympiad.
Mark on What Wild Ecstasy:
The piece is part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad and it is the only dance commission as far as I know, so I feel very privileged that we are part of such a big thing in a unique way. It has a brand new score by Gavin Higgins, who used to be our resident music fellow, for our orchestra. Gavin was brought up in the forest of Dean in the nineties, so he loosely based it on these ideas of watching illegal raves in the forest. I should also mention that our new music fellow, Mark Bowden, did the music arrangement for Afternoon of a Faun.
I was born in Fiji, so I was brought up watching tribal dances. Those are part of my earliest memories. My mother was crazy about ballet and used to take me to that ever since I can remember, but there was something about tribal dances that I am attracted to, probably because of my Fijian background. So when you mix that idea of “illegal raves in the forest of Dean”, ballet and contemporary dance, plus tribal dancing you get something that is primal, feral, which is probably about sex. Afternoon of a Faun is, of course about sex, I suppose what they call the nature of sexual selection. The nymph chooses the faun or the faun chooses among the nymphs… Only some years ago you couldn’t be so blatant about it!
Connecting Faun, What Wild Ecstasy & the Cultural Olympiad:
In ancient times, athletes didn’t use to get gold, silver or bronze medals, they would get an amphora, basically a vase, and for Afternoon of a Faun, Nijinsky had seen those lovely engravings on the sides of Greek vases, and that’s all based on this idea of Greek friezes or Egyptian friezes. So we made the connection between the Olympics and dancing figures/athletes on the sides of those amphorae. That brought Afternoon of the Faun into the picture, as in a way it was celebrating that era and the influence it had on it. And so we have taken it further and made my own piece quite athletic.
On the diversity of styles:
We train in classical ballet and contemporary styles, mainly Cunningham technique but it has been tough. This programme really stretches the company technically because Itzik [Galili]‘s piece, SUB, is like a bootcamp: army training but in a very poetic way. The music is by Michael Gordon and it is called the Weather Project, like cloud coming together and bursting and exploding, and bits of thunder, played on strings. The all-male cast have been bringing their fitness up for this particular piece, it is an absolute tour the force for them. And then Siobhan Davies’s piece is quite the opposite: you want to relax, to almost release the body completely, so you can get up to speed, so you can muscle your way through that.
On the Company’s Faun pedigree:
L’Après-midi d’un Faune is very strict, shoulder line is very very important, the example of one of the greatest dancers of all time, Nijinsky. I think opening night is danced by Dane Hurst, and he is absolutely amazing because he looks like a faun anyway, plus it is quite uncomfortable to be in profile for all that time. I’ve gone to see other productions where they seem to come out of character, where they seem to suddenly not be on profile, so their bodies, and their shoulders and hips are skewed to the front.
It is staged by Ann Whitley who was a choreologist here in the sixties and seventies. Madame Rambert was with the Ballets Russes when Nijinsky was performing this work, so she would have seen him dance over 30 performances of it. She got the piece directly off Nijinsky and we have done it since 1931, so the company has done about 440 performances. We are an authority in this piece for our version: Madame Rambert used to coach it and sanctioned all its peculiarities. Then Ann Whitley notated it when she was in the company. She thought ‘I should write this down because no one else has’ and then in the eighties she finally staged it for a gala. Ann is an amazing choreologist, she is strict with the peculiarities of it… how you organise your face, body, shoulder, shoulder-line is particularly important because hardly anything happens in the piece so what you are watching is the prominence of the dancers and the strictness, the way it is organised in time and space which gives it its magic; I love this version!
Rambert dances their last performances of L’Après-midi d’un Faune / What Wild Ecstasy tonight. For more information and booking visit the Sadler’s Wells website. The company also presents its season of new choreography at the Southbank Centre later this month.
Follow Rambert on Twitter: @RambertDance