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Rambert
Brenda Lee Grech, Daniel Davidson, Miguel Altunaga in Didy Veldman's “The 3 Dancers.” Photograph by Tristram Kenton

In with the New

Rambert's “Love, Art & Rock’n’Roll”

Performance
Rambert: “Love, Art & Rock’n’Roll”
Place
Sadler’s Wells, London, UK, November 3-7, 2015
Words
Sara Veale

Rambert’s latest bill, “Love, Art & Rock’n’Roll,” features works from three different choreographers, each corresponding to one of the titular motifs. There’s a fair bit of thematic crossover between Didy Veldman’s ‘art’ offering (“The 3 Dancers,” debuted earlier this autumn) and Kim Brandstrup’s ‘love’ (“Transfigured Night,” here receiving its London premiere): both are earnest in tone and romantic in subject—an intersection that somewhat sequesters Christopher Bruce’s jaunty 1991 Rolling Stones tribute, “Rooster” (in its final performance here). Thematic incongruity aside, the picks gave rise to some stellar opening night performances, with company favourites Dane Hurst and Miguel Altunaga shining particularly brightly—a testament to each one’s technical virtuosity and artistic versatility.

Veldman’s piece attempts to animate Picasso’s 1925 painting The Three Dancers, which alludes to a charged, traumatic love triangle between three of the painter’s friends (one of whom eventually turned to suicide). Instead of a linear narrative charting the sequence of events, she opts for an abstract format that zig-zags between the emotions evident in Picasso’s work: lust, anger, jealousy, despair. It’s an absorbing approach, made all the more so by the many clever references to cubism, from the dancers’ distorted postures and sharp profiles to the angular lighting and piercing metallic shards suspended from the ceiling.

Two trios comprise the cast: three white-clad dancers who represent the central figures and three black-clad ones who hint at their shadowy desires. The opening moments establish this connection neatly, the dark trio echoing the light one’s glossy interactions with agitated, sharper variations. Later, individuals duet with their shadowy selves, a development that climaxes in a fury-fuelled stand-off between Altunaga and Hurst, each grabbing at his foil’s neck. Despite the angst underpinning the piece, there’s a definitive poise to it, thanks in large part to the fluidity of the choreography, which, even when it takes on a free-falling quality, is smoothly articulated and gracefully executed.

A similar composure informs Brandstrup’s “Transfigured Night,” set to Arnold Shoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht,” itself inspired by Richard Dehmel’s like-titled poem. The piece navigates two extremes of love: debilitating anguish and reckless passion. Altunaga and Simone Damberg Würtz tackle the first of these, delivering a moving, if theatrical, depiction of a relationship creaking under the strain of insecurity, a chorus of background dancers amplifying the couple’s pain. The choreography follows the soaring score intelligently, employing tactical moments of stillness that punctuate its exquisite ebbs and flows. As the music becomes more hopeful, so does the dance: Hannah Rudd and Hurst sub in to depict the dizzying can’t-eat, can’t-sleep phase of love, offering a pitch-perfect frolic full of giddy skips and wild swan dives, ambitious slides and handstands.

It’s here the piece awakens and, unfortunately, peaks. Hurst and Rudd are at such ease with each other, and the supporting corps so roused by their lively choreography, that the final scene—which according to the programme notes depicts a “more real” version of love, “something. . . uncertain, ambiguous, compromised”—inevitably feels like a let-down. This final scene is well danced, but nowhere near as lovingly or energetically drawn as the first two. Were it not so hurried perhaps it would feel like a more satisfying conclusion.

My first experience with the programme’s final work—“Rooster,” a company staple for many years —was at an outdoor festival earlier this year. At the time I found the perky number—a series of playful vignettes set to snippets of Rolling Stones songs—a fun watch, but I’d wondered how much my response was buoyed by the rowdy festival atmosphere. A not insignificant amount, it turns out: what was amusing on the outdoor stage felt disappointingly hollow under the weighty spectre of Veldman’s and Brandstrup’s pieces, the strutting numbers underwhelming and the lyrical ones overegged. Even the dancers appeared weary of the piece, with a few notable exceptions, including Altunaga, whose magnetic swagger gave it a much-needed injection of life.

Still, the piece has its loyal fans, and with the final shimmies came a roar of appreciation from the audience—not a bad send-off at all. The bill has left me excited about Rambert’s future, the introduction of new works and retirement of old hinting at an ambitious, potentially momentous road for the company in the coming years. Here’s hoping they follow it.