Melissa Blease reviews Rambert Dance Company’s performances of The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses, Ghost Dances and Goat at Theatre Royal Bath
Set to celebrate it’s 100th birthday in nine years time, Rambert is Britain’s oldest dance company, and watching the three dances that most recently visited the Theatre Royal Bath it’s clear that the company’s reputation for bringing together the most exciting dancers, choreographers, composers and designers in the field of modern dance 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 in 1926, resulting in a performance that’s widely credited to have heralded the birth of British ballet.
Rambert offers the most far-reaching touring programme of any British contemporary dance company, and make regular annual excursions to Bath.
Of the three dances they bought to our doorstep this year, it was perhaps the revival of Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances – arguably the most popular work in Rambert’s history, created by Bruce in 1981 to protest the brutality of the Pinochet regime in Chile – that was the most eagerly anticipated.
And yet, it wasn’t presented as a finale. Sandwiched between the gaudily hypnotic The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses and Goat, Ben Duke’s darkly funny reflection on the meaning of public performance (well that’s how I interpreted it, anyway), the ethereal, slightly sinister charms of a this powerfully affecting work became even more resonant than I found them to be when I first saw it, almost a decade ago. Three masked figures – skeletons? corpses? spectres? – prowl a rocky terrain, intermingling with the humans – victims? prey? ghosts? – they coexist with. The set-up is eerie, the vibe ominous, the ghouls chillingly threatening. And yet the music – Latin American folk rhythms and panpipes – is sweet and wistful, lulling us into a place of peace despite the portents of doom.
The opening piece, Aletta Collins’ The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses was an altogether easier-to-digest affair, revolving around one woman and her memories and inspired by a short animated film. As the woman sits alone in her living room, day-to-day memories from her past are replayed around her over and over, until the stage is cluttered by repeating scenes (her young son tumbling through the window in search of his football; a plumber fixing the bathroom; a young, loved-up couple; a man – her husband? – delivering a Christmas tree; to name but a few). It’s an impeccably-choreographed dance to the music of time, chaotic yet highly disciplined – the dance version of flicking through a rediscovered photograph album from the 1970s or 80s, complete with Martin Parr-esque garish colours, tank tops and bell-bottomed trousers, and guileless lust.
Goat, the final slice of the trio, takes us on a different route again. Inspired by Nina Simone, and featuring a selection of her best-loved songs performed live on stage by jazz singer Nia Lynn, it begins with an archly funny live commentary on modern dance. As the stage is being set, dancer Miguel Altunaga takes to the microphone to comment on what’s going on, how the dancers might be feeling, what the dancers’ various moves might mean – for a while, we’re almost on Dom Joly territory (“I think they are feeling good,” Altunaga says, after a piece set to a Simone-inspired rendition of her eponymous hit.)
But as wittily self-aware, self-satirising and modern as the piece is – and despite a ‘drunken’ rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way, and a centrepiece featuring a man covered in yellow Post-It notes – the dance exhibits qualities that anchor it firmly in the Rambert tradition; the physical and emotional tempos soar, plummet and dive as the main characters follow suit, finishing with a duet rich in almost trance-like physicality that lingers long after the performance ends.
Human, ethereal, transcendental; exquisite, stimulating, precise: an evening in the company of Rambert can be described in many ways, and the dances interpreted to numerous levels of complexity. Whatever you take from the experience though, Rambert is a company that continues to innovate and remains at the top of its game. Roll on that 100th birthday party.