Rambert, Britain’s oldest dance company came to Norwich’s Theatre Royal last night and blew my mind as several of the dancers appeared to redefine the laws of physics. Touring recently commissioned works- The Strange Charm of Mother Nature, Subterrain and Terra Incognita alongside the revival of ‘Four Elements’ and ‘Rooster’, the latter first performed by Rambert in 1994, last nights repertoire was eclectic, challenging, intelligent and entertaining.
‘Four Elements’ showcased both individual dancers and some skillfully choreographed pas de deux, fusing shapes and movements that at times appeared almost grotesque in their jagged, gnarled shapes combined with a precise and tight structure referenced by the costumes, printed with playing card spades and skeletons or geometric tartan checks. Dancers moved through ‘water’, ‘earth’, ‘air’ and ‘fire’ although at times, there was a lack of differentation. Technical skill though was apparent in the expression of corporeality and counterpoint and low level movements, something that was in evidence throughout the entire show as was a pleasure in the physicality of the dancers- both from their perspective and ours. There was nothing fey about the dance.
In ‘The Strange Charm of Mother Nature’ there was a compelling fusion of music, some live- Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No3 plus a new piece composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, combined with lighting design by Mark Henderson and costumes by Stevie Stewart. The piece referenced the travel of Mark Baldwin, composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad and artist Katie Paterson (renowned for making art out of natural phenomena) to CERN to visit the Large Hadron Collider. Dancers as gamma rays, quarks, red dwarfs and black holes replicated the elemental energy behind the creation of life and our universe as we watched. The coming together of spectacular galactic lighting by Mark Henderson, and those crystal covered costumes created a dazzling gamma burst of a performance as dancers moved in unison only to agitate, challenge, collide and scatter into interstellar eruptions, moving independently yet still in ensemble.
It is no exaggeration to say that ‘Rooster’ was the most eagerly awaited part of the repertoire and it did not disappoint- the joy and exhilaration of the audience was palpable. Set to the music of the Rolling Stones, Christopher Bruce’s choreography references so many modern and not so modern dances and cultural tropes, I stopped counting after fifteen- from the protective and proud misogyny that gave a nod towards the Sharks and Jets in ‘West Side Story’ through to Elvis like static poses. Toreadors, (krumping?), butterfly dancing, the sixties Go Go Girls and an air of Ready Steady Go, the slickness of the Commodores style backing dancers and velvet jacket clad Rat Pack-isms through to the strutting cock himself-Mick Jagger kept us in their thrall. The charismatic expressiveness of the dancers gave us snake hipped men a la Bobby Gillespie and women with attitude, all stripper tease with skirts pulled back and up and feathers around necks. They performed dances of courtship and seductive promise that wove in motifs from Early Modern courtly dancing to the Tarantella and Jamaican dance hall booty shakes.
Lyrical and expressive in the way it followed the mood, theme and style of the Stones’ songs, the puppet like innocence of the female soloist against a backdrop of smooth male backing dancers in ‘Ruby Tuesday’ received an ovation from the audience, in part because of the spectacular lifts. ‘Lady Jane’ showed a series of witty and spirited duets against a backdrop which morphed from ensembled menages to static couples. Woven continuously throughout was the arrogant alpha male motif- male dancers referencing Jagger’s cocksure walk to the amusement of the audience and patient derision of the female dancers although the men retained a sweetly youthful vulnerability. I have to admit it moved me greatly. I would have liked to have seen a more dangerous snarling edge to the dancing, a more literal reference to the very real threat the Stones represented to the nations youth back in the day but agree that the extreme misogyny of their lyrics has an almost parodic edge which ‘Rooster’ picks up on beautifully. The Stones are a cultural carnival and Christopher Bruce knows this.