Rambert is a contradiction of dance. Britain’s oldest dance company, created at the turn of the 20th Century, with a 40year legacy of some of the best examples of modern, contemporary dance within the dance world.
Whilst Rambert is putting the finishing touches to a new tour of an adaptation of Peaky Blinders, tonight we have a company exposed (almost literally in one piece), showcasing three pieces of pure dance, stripped of any in-depth narrative, instead a celebration of the art form they have dominated for decades.
Our first piece, Eye Candy, choreographed by Imre and Marne van Opstal, is an exploration of modern beauty standards and its positive and negative impact on us. Dancers wearing specially designed body suits to give the impression of nudity (minus private parts) kick and writhe around the stage, inspecting and manipulating each other.
At times, it gives us the chance to fully embrace the unquestionable athleticism, power and grace of the dancers; at other points it feels like a weird army of Barbie and Ken dolls marching round the stage. Visceral and primal in style (thanks to the choreographers’ set and costume design and atmospheric lighting from Fabiana Piccioli and Sander Loonen) it is a captivating if bemusing piece, that triggers the occasional nervous giggle from an audience not entirely sure what to make of it.
The second piece, Cerberus, by Ben Duke is far more fun. A self-described ‘meta dance-comedy’, set within the performance of a contemporary dance show, it is a lovely take on how we face death and a charming twist on the Greek myth of Orpheus in the Underworld. Lines of dancers, roped together, find individual ways to approach their impending ‘exit stage left’ – from the stage and, purportedly, from life itself. Some kick and pull away, others march with a weight of inevitability, neither disrupting each other’s progress.
It is wonderfully farcical and self-aware, with exquisite points of choreography, underpinned by hearty percussion from Romarna Campbell, as we see a hapless stagehand try and rescue his partner, with a delicious moment of tension as we watch to see if he’ll obey the instructions not to look back as she emerges from the underworld.
The last piece, ‘Following the Subtle Current Upstream’, is a revival of Alonzo King’s 22year-old sequence that explores finding Joy once again. Black funeral wear is replaced with Robert Rosenwasser’s earthy green and brown costumes that scream of life and nature, as our troupe bound around the stage to soundscapes of thunderstorms.
Again, the skill of each dancer is the absolutely focus, although this means even the slightest wobble or move that is pulled just a teensy bit short is magnified in an otherwise flawless, flowing sea of bodies. And after the comical masterpiece of Cerberus, it somehow feels a teensy bit flat.
Throughout all three pieces, as with many ensemble performances, it is sometimes so frantic and busy as to be barely able to keep track of all that is happening onstage. And whilst Rambert (and the likes of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company) remain at the vanguard of live dance performance, it doesn’t feel the most accessible piece for those new to the art form, perhaps visible in the reduced (albeit enthusiastic) audience.
Nevertheless, tonight is a reminder that Rambert’s grand tradition of trendsetting, modern dance excellence is likely to remain unchallenged for quite a while yet.
Rambert Dance is on at The Lowry until Friday 27th May. For tickets go to https://thelowry.com/whats-on/rambert-dance-2022/
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 25th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★