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Past and Present
'Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan', 'Reflection', 'Tragedy
by Stuart Sweeney
and 28th May, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells,
Image: Ian Spink's
"A Tragedy of Fashion"
by Hugo Glendinning
It’s always a pleasure
to see Rambert, catch up on new dancers, the progress of others and to
see the latest commissions, especially as Mark Baldwin is keeping faith
with the Company’s strong tradition of fostering new work. This visit
brought us two abstract contemporary pieces, one a re-working and one
new and, as part of the Ashton centenary celebrations, the revival of
a solo and the premiere of a large-scale homage to the master choreographer.
“Linear Remains” by Rafael Bonachela opens in silence and half-darkness
with an exceptional solo for Amy Hollingsworth and two groups of stationary
dancers at the back and side of the stage. She stretches and bends in
slow motion with occasional rapier strokes of a leg or an arm. At the
end of this section, as she walks to the back, there is a striking image
with the point of an elbow above her head and as the arm slowly unfolds
onto the shoulder of one of the other dancers, the music starts and the
lights go up – breathtaking. Bonachela then explores the movement established
in the opening solo, performed to a hissy, minimalist score by Christian
Fennesz. The choreographer has extended this piece to 12 dancers, as he
is keen to extend his palette to include larger groupings. This is a sound
development strategy, but the patterns here sometimes seem too complex.
Nevertheless, I agree with an ex-member of the Company who told me that
Bonachela has the knack of making the Rambert dancers look very good.
“Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan” was created in 1976
to celebrate Rambert’s 50th Anniversary. Ashton had fond memories of seeing
Duncan several times late in her career and also drew on the remarkable
memory of Marie Rambert, to whom Ashton dedicated the work. In the original
production, the piano was on-stage and I can well believe that this would
add another dimension to the ballet; it is puzzling that Rambert decided
not to use the large Sadler’s Wells stage to accommodate the piano. Having
seen a couple of displays of reconstructed Duncan pieces, I missed some
of her distinctive technique, although the general movement reflected
Amy Hollingsworth certainly earned her money on the opening night, as
a few minutes after completing her central role in “Linear Remains” and
a hasty costume change and the donning of a wig, she was back on stage
as Duncan. Dancing with grace and lightness, she stretched her arms skywards
and skipped around the stage attractively, enhanced by the costume and
lighting, which reminded me of Sir Frederick Leighton’s “Flaming June”.
However, although romantic and beautiful, I had the feeling that Duncan's
spirituality was missing. Later in the week, in contrast to Hollingsworth’s
balletic style, Lucila Alves brought a more grounded, modern dance aesthetic
to the role, together with a wild quality and the sense of a resolute
personality. The result was a convincing impression of this legendary
dance figure and it’s a pity, in my view, that the London newspaper critics
didn’t see this interpretation on the opening night.
Fin Walker and her composer partner Ben Park form one of the most sought
after teams in current British dance making. The programme notes for “Reflection”
refer to the “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” and exhort us to “…reflect
continually.” Walker also writes about the mirror sense of the word and
it is this usage that is used more clearly in the work as impulses are
reflected down a line of five dancers. Walker repeatedly uses travelling
spins to good effect and the high-speed interactions with strong physicality
are characteristic of her choreographer. After the initial section, a
second group of five joins the original dancers and eventually takes centre-stage.
As the work progresses the two groups mix and the original structure is
broken down. Despite this development, compared with some of Walker’s
other work, I found “Reflection” too evenly paced and the movement less
memorable. Given that this piece and “Linear Remains” are both fast, abstract
works, ideally they should be on different programmes.
“A Tragedy of Fashion”, with new choreography and intriguing music by
contemporary composer Elena Kats-Chermin, was a brave step, given the
understandably reverential attitudes to Ashton. So, the positive reaction
of the audiences and several critics must have pleased choreographer Ian
Spink, his team and Mark Baldwin. The designs by Antony MacDonald and
Juliette Blondell are attractive and the production is fun, as well as
providing roles for 19 dancers. However, in combining elements of the
original scenario with snapshots from Ashton’s life, I found the overall
mix confusing, although one generous spirit told me it was “surrealistic”.
After a funeral, where the central figure is born, with six of the Rambert
girls on pointe, we are whisked to a ballet studio then quickly shift
to an haute-couture salon. Martin Lindinger as Duchic, a couturier, is
the link between the different scenes, but often seems an observer rather
than a central player. We see quotations from Nijinska’s “Les Biches”
and Nijinski’s “L’Après-midi d’un Faune”, but the style is generally heady
theatricality rather than pure dance. As the Mannequin, Rehearsal Director
Vincent Redmon shows off his pointe technique and his bare bottom to the
delight of many, as he did once before in Mats Ek’s “She Was Black”. Overall,
“Tragedy” falls into the same broad category as another Rambert work,
“The Parade’s Gone By”, but without the logic that Christopher Bruce brought
to Lindsey Kemp’s silent film extravaganza.
Looking back over the evening, Robin Gladwin, who originally joined as
an Apprentice, was assured in various roles and Maika Ramos, who came
in 2003, is making her mark across the repertory. I enjoyed this programme,
but some recent Rambert visits have had a bigger impact.
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