Artistic Director: Mark Baldwin
Music Director: Paul Hoskins
Choreography: Marguerite Donlan, Paul Taylor and Itzik Galili
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
The Public Reviews Rating:
Rambert Dance Company mark the 10th anniversary season of Artistic Director Mark Baldwin with another ambitious and varied programme including (tonight) a World Premiere, no less. With an 86-year history that leads directly back to the Ballet Russes, the Rambert are one of the UK’s largest touring dance companies, occupying a unique position straddling the middle ground between classical and contemporary ballet – but more of that later.
This opening night sees the World Premiere of a major new work, Marguerite Donlan’s Labyrinth of Love: an exploration of love told through seven sung poems written by women poets through the ages, from Sappho to Liz Taylor (oddly) via Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson, set to a new score by Grammy Award-winning composer Michael Daughtery. The curtain rises on the kind of breathtaking spectacle only a large cast of dancers (14 in this case) and striking design can achieve. Clad in brief white costumes by Conor Murphy from a frozen tableau the dancing explodes in a whirl of limbs. With Mat Collishaw’s visual effects and Charles Balfour’s sumptuously nocturnal lighting scheme, a reflective stage sets the dancers on a moonlit pool to a backdrop of billowing grasses. Progressively the imagery for each scene shifts through water, roots, fire, stars, scuddering moths and rainfall to create a visually arresting piece of theatre. Soprano Sarah Gabriel joins the dancers on stage, her movement choreographed into the piece. Donlan sees the poems as a series of houses with interconnecting doors, and there is a seamless progression from one to another using different patterns of dancers, duos and groups with more abstract interludes between but eventually, I find the presence of the singer makes the songs themselves too central and distracting: ballet theatre drifts towards musical theatre, emphasised by some of Daughtery’s musical styles. There is some attractive choreography and physical imagery and the dancers are consistently good but ultimately the poems are as disconnected as they are interlinked and Labyrinth doesn’t feel like it achieves any true momentum or natural conclusion. The story is missing somehow.
Second piece Roses is a rare chance to see work by the great American composer Paul Taylor. Choreographed in 1985 and set to music by Wagner, Roses is a lyrical, austerely romantic work in a stripped-back classical ballet style, enlivened by repeated and varied use of circular motifs and elegantly acrobatic somersaults. Set for five pairs of dancers, different pairs are brought to the fore while the remainder circle and create tableaux, suggesting different aspects of one relationship. Finally a sixth pair, differently dressed and lit, suggest some kind of coming together or reconciliation. Choreographically, for all its austere elegance and courtliness, Roses feels like the period piece it is, emphasising that gap between classical and contemporary that the Rambert seem to inhabit.
Finally, the Rambert offered SUB, a work for seven men by Itzik Galili set to Michael Gordon’s exciting modern string work Weather One. First created in 2008, SUB offers the kind of dynamic, modern contemporary choreography that marks such a strong contrast with the considered new classical conservatism of Roses. Stunningly lit by Galili’s regular lighting collaborator Yaron Abulafia and costumed by William Ivey Long – a cross between a kilt and a greatcoat tied around the waist – this was like watching a different company – and a company I much prefer. SUB was full of energy, physical commitment and sweat and sinew, and structured around physical patterns building toward a conclusion.
The Rambert are hugely popular and all three pieces of work received an enthusiastic reception from a well-attended Lowry audience, but for me there is something deeply unsatisfying about that middle ground mentioned earlier. Without the storytelling, staging and strict technical demands and conventions of classical ballet, and without being one of those many smaller contemporary companies where you have to make ten or fewer dancers really count, the Rambert’s doubtless excellent company of dancers seem sometimes devoid of personality and energy. They rely on classical foundations pitched in a contemporary direction without ever seeming to reach for the ground-breaking technical innovation or modern narrative of their theoretical competition. Somehow, every time I see them I hope for more. But SUB was great.
Runs until 12 October
Rambert Dance Company: Labyrinth of Love - The Lowry, Salford,
Tags: Charles Balfour, Conor Murphy, Dance, Itzik Galili, Labyrinth of Love, Labyrinth of Love Tour, Marguerite Donlan, Mark Baldwin, Mat Collishaw, Michael Daughtery, Michael Gordon, Paul Hoskins, Paul Taylor, Rambert Dance Company, Roses, SUB, The Lowry, William Ivey Long, Yaron Abulafia