Melissa Blease reviews Rambert’s PreSentient, Rouge and In Your Rooms, on at Theatre Royal Bath until 26 October
The UK’s most innovative dance company – widely credited to have heralded the birth of British ballet – is actually a very old modern institution indeed; Rambert is poised to celebrate it’s centenary in seven years time. The company’s reputation for bringing together the most exciting dancers, choreographers, composers and designers in the field of modern dance, however, is as fresh as it was when Marie Rambert and her students presented A Tragedy of Fashion by Frederick Ashton at Hammersmith’s Lyric Theatre back in 1926 – and laurel-resting has never had a role to play in this Great British Institution’s remit.
In March 2017, Rambert announced the appointment of brand new chief executive and executive producer Helen Shute. Just months into her new role, Shute established Rambert2 (a new ensemble for exceptionally talented early career dancers from across the globe) and began a worldwide search for a new artistic director. Since welcoming Benoit Swan Pouffer to the Rambert fold last year, the dynamic duo have championed an ambitious programme of bold new works and stimulating revivals, three of which visit Bath on their most recent outing.
Choreographer Wayne McGregor’s subtly sensual PreSentient was originally commissioned by Rambert in 2002. 17 years on, there’s a maturity to a work that takes us on a supremely elegant physical journey through a range of complex and often conflicting emotions: tension gives way to contentment, hesitation is transformed by sudden resolute conviction and trust replaces doubt as Steve Reich’s deeply evocative Triple Quartet wraps us up in the aural equivalent of the most luxurious duvet you’ve ever encountered. Lucy Carter’s sublime lighting designs accelerate, animate and articulate the complex chemistry of a richly detailed, powerfully poignant choreography.
Next up, the eagerly-anticipated Rouge: a brand new creation by Marion Motin, a former Madonna/Robbie Williams/Shy’m/M Pokora dancer, and choreographer for Stromae and Christine and the Queens. Rouge is Motin’s first gig with a contemporary dance company – and boy, does her work hit the stage running… rather unexpectedly, however, to a traditional rock’n’roll beat.
Dry ice, eerie lighting, and a lone troubadour with smoking feathers in his hat, a heavy overcoat slung around his shoulders and an electric guitar slung low across his hips; so far, so very Mad Max. And then, as figures emerge from the dry ice – initially standing then falling, standing then falling, over and over again and again – we’re on 1980s British pop culture impresario Phillip Sallon’s original Mud Club territory. There’s more than a hint of the Boy George/Noel Fielding/Marc Bolan style of sartorial elegance in the eclectic costume drama that’s unfolding: a feather boa here, an oversized fun fur there, spiky heels clashing with Cuban-heeled cowboy boots hither and thither, and plenty of taught flesh wrapped up in over-tight lycra everywhere. It’s a bold, relentlessly energetic piece, more playful than the haunting opening scenes suggest and wittily diverting to the second work’s finale.
Then on we go to the actual finale of this astonishingly fast-paced triple bill for In Your Rooms: a revival of Hofesch Shechter’s 2007 work, originally commissioned by The Place, Southbank Centre and Sadler’s Wells, now welcomed by Pouffer into his company’s modern classic canon. Offering an invigorating contrast to the first two pieces, In Your Rooms is more potent in its physicality and literally louder in its clear intent to shake us up. It’s darker and gloomier in theme, too: what is chaos? What is society, or politics, or relationships, without order, or leadership, or purpose? There are smatterings of voiceover dialogue courtesy of Nell (The Gogmagogs) Catchpole posing theories and statements on the theme, adding lighthearted moments of flippancy or further layers of despondency as the dancers – the men constricted by buttoned-up shirts, tank tops and office-wear trousers; the women in dour dresses – jump-cut from one existential crisis to the next, chasing or teasing, clinging or rejecting each other as they go. It’s congenitally human and elementally intense; it is, from start to finish, utterly, categorically and quintessentially Rambert.
Ambitious, challenging, transcendental; arresting, compelling, and sensual: an evening in the company of Rambert can be described in many ways, and the dances interpreted to numerous levels of complexity – or none at all; sheer, simple, unadulterated beauty goes large here. Whatever you take from the experience though, Rambert innovates, fascinates and inspires. Roll on that 100th birthday party.
Rambert perform Rouge featuring Juan Gil, Liam Francis, Daniel Davidson. Credit © Johan Persson