The evening is centred around artistic director Mark Baldwin’s new work for the company, The Comedy of Change, which gives its title to the tour. Commissioned to commemorate Darwin, it uses dance to explore the concept of evolution.
Austere but effective, with a restricted palette of black, white and silver, both the performance and the score challenge the audience.
In a later section, a solitary dance is left the stage, to be visited by a black-clad figure suggesting a symbol of the threat of death. The hooded black clad figure, with a masked face, is joined by two others, whilst at the back of the stage the solitary original figure is wrapped as is mummified in silver foil by the other dancers. White-clad masked and hooded figures come on to weave amongst the black ones, suggesting a tussle between opposing forces, which leads to a sudden and dramatic conclusion.
The exciting score by Julian Anderson has also been specially commissioned. Strong on woodwind, it is at times reminiscent of Stravinsky (who is of course famous as a composer of ballet scores and for his collaboration with Diaghilev, a choreographer Rambert are commemorating this year) but also has a shimmering sound which one might readily associate with orchestras and composers from the West Coast. Rambert Orchestra are to be commended for their playing of this challenging score, which was enjoyable in its own right.
The biological theme continues into the following work, Carnival of the Animals, described by the composer as his ‘grand zoological fantasy’. Both the music and the dance were created in a short time and a playful mood by the choreographer and the composer respectively. It is an exuberant and joyful piece which is highly enjoyable to watch and which lightens the mood after Baldwin’s more sombre and intellectual work. First created in 1982 and recently re-worked on Rambert for this revival, enjoyed considerable popularity and is to be expected that this version will fare similarly.
The re-working has allowed new costumes, which add elegance and flair to the production, with smartly cut white tuxedo over brightly coloured shirts and socks. Props are used inventively too and if there were a prize for ‘most inventive use of an ostrich feather fan’ this piece should win it. Where this likable work scores most highly of all is in its integration of artistic forms: visual art, music, dance and costume. Each contributes significantly to the overall theatricality without the collaboration ever falling into the easy trap of seeming contrived.
The fantasy element is echoed in the backdrop, a painting by ‘Le Douanier’ Rousseau, depicting an artist wrapped up in his visions whilst seemingly oblivious to being surrounded by a pride of lions and hence in imminent danger. The artist in fact never left his native France, but painted wild animals and tropical plants from his imagination, supplemented by reference books and visits to the zoo.
This theme of fantasy and imagination also makes a link between this closing work and the opening piece, Tread Softly, referring to the poetry of Yeats and exploring the themes of illusion and broken dreams. The title words are interpreted literally in Henri Oguike’s athletic and demanding choreography, with a dramatic opening scene where some of the cast walk on the bodies of others who are supine on the stage, which brought gasps from the audience.
This dense, and thoughtful work is set to a well-known score, that of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden which, like the Saint Saens has seen various dance repertoire choreographed to it. Clad in white lace-trimmed costumes, suggestive both of half-finished attire and of nostalgia, the dancers pair, separate and then join altogether. This is an intriguing work which I would like to see again. It is Oguike’s first piece for Rambert, and follows a successful season earlier in the year with his own dancers,
As one would expect from Rambert, there was an extremely high standard of performance overall but particular commendation is due to Mbulelo Ndabeni, who has a dynamic stage presence and a physically tough role in Carnival of the Animals requiring him to walk on his hands at length, and to Malgorzata Dzierzon, who has been nominated twice for the Spotlight Award.
This programme is repertory dance theatre at its best it showcases high quality work from a range of choreographers, carefully balancing introducing new or challenging work to the audience with presenting accessible pieces and maintaining high standards of performance throughout.
Rambert will be at the Lighthouse, Poole, until 23 October and then at Sadler’s Wells, London, 3-7 November 2009.
Details of further regional dates can be found at Rambert.org.uk.