Rambert Dance Company: New Choreography @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

As one of the godfathers of British contemporary dance, Rambert Dance Company has remained a force to be reckoned with.

The Season of New Choreography continues founder Marie Rambert’s tradition of nurturing young choreographic talent.

The programme for 2009 features five short works choreographed by the company’s own dancers, with specially commissioned music (excluding one) played by a live orchestra, furthering artistic director Mark Baldwin’s ambition of creating works that are compelling collaborations of the arts.
Choreographed by Alexander Whitley, Iatrogenesis appears to be a statement about the use of oil and its effects in the world. In some ways, it resembles the style of Hofesh Shechter. Clad in plain t-shirts and cargo pants, the dancers open Iatrogenesis on the floor, with their movements awkward, constrained and almost painful.

While a much more melodic second section, where the softer movements are more of a ‘classical’ style, shows Whitley is no one trick pony, Iatrogenesis seemed almost over-ambitious, as some parts were too busy to do the dance justice. That said, with his very masculine, physical theatre approach very much the style du jour, and with his ability to convey an idea cleverly and never crudely, Whitley is certainly promising.

Clara Barber’s Conversaciones is an exhilarating six-minute solo performed by the choreographer herself, which explores the unconscious, or the ‘voices’ that we hear. Sometimes Barber physically moves her foot to step forward or to get into a specific position, showing the mind’s power in changing one’s actions, which can either calm you or drive you into anxiety both of which Barber convincingly presents. However, while the performance itself cannot be faulted Barber is an extremely gifted dancer the choreography just lacks that certain something that keeps the audience wanting more.

Contemporary ballet was the order of the day in Meridian, choreographed by Mikaela Polley. Although it is refreshing to see a major contemporary ensemble showing its classical roots the four female dancers were en pointe, albeit in a very contemporary way Meridian was unfortunately the evening’s weakest piece. Different relationship dynamics were on show: aggression possessed one duet, while silence and uneasiness were portrayed by another.

But without any hint of a starting point or central idea apparent to the audience, it was more difficult to ‘get’ than the other pieces of the evening. It did not help that, without any wings on the stage, exits and entrances from dancers of which there were many in Meridian proved very distracting.

If certain pieces in the evening succeeded in some aspects but not others, from finding an engaging stimulus to costumes, lighting to music, Brevity achieved the most successful combination of these ideas.

Taking its inspiration from chess, joint choreographers Angela Towler and Martin Joyce look at the power struggle central to the game. Dancers either move in a rigid grid with perfect timing, or in different lines and shapes, as with chess pieces; in parts, they watch on like pawns as others engage in struggle. Red lighting, elaborate regal costumes and an updated classical soundtrack all add to the high drama of Brevity: it may feel too obvious and simplistic for some, but that is no bad thing and will do the duo, known as TowlerJoyce, no harm in gaining new fans.

Patricia Okenwa’s Mammon had the largest ensemble (comprising twelve) to be a piece theatrical enough as a closing performance. However, with a quote from Paradise Lost, which was not quite expressed in any way within the dance itself, Mammon has, to me, committed the crime that contemporary dance can sometimes be guilty of to non-dancers: pretentiousness. The choreography, not quite interesting enough to sustain 25 minutes, was a smaller problem, but weighed further on an idea that the audience could not relate to.

Whether any of these works make it into Rambert’s repertoire remains to be seen, but the fact that the company encourages its dancers to explore and develop their choreographic instincts, and presents them in this sort of scale, is something to be admired, and shows how Rambert is as important and relevant in modern dance as ever.

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