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Past and Present

Rambert Dance Company

'Linear Remains', 'Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan', 'Reflection', 'Tragedy of Fashion'

by Stuart Sweeney

25 and 28th May, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London

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 Duncan’s approach.

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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