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Rambert Dance Company

'Linear Remains,' 'Five Brahms Waltzes,' 'Reflection,' 'A Tragedy of Fashion'

by Thea Nerissa Barnes

May 25, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Image: Melanie Teall in Ashton's "Five Brahms Waltzes", photo by Anthony Crickmay


Called a choreographer’s company, Rambert is a seventy-eight year old repertory company with an incredibly long list of works that span the fluctuations of several generations of dance in the twentieth and twenty-first century. In the twentieth century, classical ballet would revise its attention to canonical adherences and be swayed by expressionism, jazz, modern then post-modern performers and choreographers from America and Europe.

It is said Marie Rambert, the founder of Rambert, was inspired to dance once seeing the revolutionary modern dancer Isadora Duncan perform in 1904. Seventeen years later in 1921 in London, Duncan stirred the young choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton because her persona, movement deft and grace succeeded in transcendence because “when she moved she left herself behind.” Ashton would then choreograph "Five Brahms Waltzes" for Lynn Seymour in 1976 in adoration of Duncan for Rambert's 50th anniversary gala. Duncan’s performative act reclaimed dance as an affirmation of humanity and opposed the early twentieth century approach to classical ballet’s theory and practice. Duncan dismissed the conventions of classical ballet -- used classical music as her metronome and a bare stage, bare feet, and Greek togas -- her trademark for free, expressionistic dance.

In this the centenary of Frederick Ashton’s birth, the rethink and reconstruction of two of his works, "A Tragedy of Fashion," which opened on the bill of the first performance of Rambert Dance Company in 1926, and "Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan," first performed by Lynn Seymour in 1976, stands between and after two abstract works of this twenty first century. Rambert’s presentation at Sadler’s Wells on May 25, 2004 celebrates the narrative ballet and the personalities of past extraordinary artists, and with a selection from two twenty first century choreographers, illustrates the current trend for more aggressive investigations into the unfathomable possibilities of pure movement.

Rafael Bonachela’s "Linear Remains" is hyperbolic movement made poetic even if it is reminiscent of the works of Dwight Rhoden and William Forsythe. This abstract work conjures athletic viral images where legs are flung, contorted over the head and arms that are seemingly stretched, then fixed to obtuse body parts, the floor or out in space. With the lighting design of Michael Mannion, these odd shapes are made to resemble sculpture or made to stretch across space. These alternative positions and locomotions -- like dragging the body on the toe whilst the other leg is in six o’clock -- are about exaggeration, pushing physicality to extremes because that’s the next possibility. The trick though, is to make the task more than just a statement of inclination. From a perspective that relishes youthful science fiction approaches to technical prowess, Bonachela succeeds.

"Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan" is a revival of Frederick Ashton’s work inspired by the performance skill of famed modern dancer, Isadora Duncan. Amy Hollingsworth is a wonderful dancer but does not have the persona Duncan was said to exhibit and definitely is not a Lynn Seymour. Hollingsworth does not seem to have the dynamic and dramatic diversity the solo warrants. Instead of digging into the earth, her runs skim the surface and her postures are not quite the evocation of Brahms’ five waltzes. There is a strong inner sense of verticality but it isn’t expansive enough to bring the imagined characterizations of Duncan to life.

One has to remember Duncan was a revolutionary and surmise that she danced because she had a message to deliver. There was a thirst and desperation there that culminated in the tenacity to defy conventions and inspire an alternative art practice. Hollingsworth did not have to be Duncan, but seems like she could have embodied more of the ideals that made Duncan who she was instead of the shapes that everyone remembers. This solo seemed to miss an attention to “why” Duncan danced as she did while conjuring only “what” was done.

Fin Walker’s "Reflection" is fidget, yak yak, tug, tug, pull, push, tight, no air, closed, no transitions, only shape to reshape. This is an exploration in movement construction that specializes in fragmentation by augmentation of extraordinary force exerted through arm, leg and torso gestures -- a very good exercise in movement construction, but an exercise nonetheless. Ten dancers divided into two teams hurdled through space with chaîné turns stopping in designated spaces on the stage, and then breaking into smaller groups of two or three dancers with an occasional solo. Lucy Carter’s set and lighting designs accentuated the occasional solo or made the backdrop assist in giving the dance visual accompaniment. Ben Park’s music enforced with its musical kind of staccato yak, tug, pull, push -- Walker’s idea of reflection: an energy that is a jarring, flick, snap happy force.

"A Tragedy of Fashion" is Ian Spink, Antony McDonald and Juliette Blondelle’s contemporary reworking of the 1920 work of the same name by Frederick Ashton. There are many historical insider references for Ashton-ites to savor, but those of us not that versed could still relish the decor and turn of events the ballet offers in its narration. From the opening funeral, the flashback to situations that lead up to the death of Monsieur Duchic, one could get intrigued with just the entrances and exits. Conversations mimed by the characters; a dance class or rehearsal, then a fashion show with witty poses in frocks that were like grotesque nightmares; a moving drop of a cut out dress and shears give the work a surreal feel. From the tango to the gun it was all a bit mad, comical and silly -- perhaps even tragic. The work ended with all the characters standing in 2 lines facing each other.

When dance is not a manifestation of inner consciousness it seems a manifestation of itself; a choreographic expression with a designated aesthetic fueled by singular ideals for body design, use of space and dynamics. Bonachela and Walker seem opposite sides of the same coin; the coin being the Rambert dancers’ extraordinary physicality and technical prowess and the current circumstance of dance that encourages choreographers to seek ever more industrious variations to distance themselves from each other. Their similarities though align them and are what makes them intriguing.

These works propose a question, a "what if….?" and then the realization of a piece of dance art. An expansion on line becomes an entanglement, an encounter, a moment to wrap around or violently explode from. Bonachela and Walker offer their alternative approaches to the proposition and realize different aesthetic preferences. The "Brahms Waltzes" and "A Tragedy of Fashion" are a reminder of times when the proposition was a need to articulate lived experience or be an extension of it. Here too is an expansion on line, entanglement, an encounter, a moment to wrap around then violently explode from.

Ashton and the savored muse he found in Duncan speak of a time when dance was done because a person had to do it, not because they could. Out of the entire evening, this was the one elusive ingredient that slipped around corners or dissipated before entering the stalls. Quite wonderful dancing, but perhaps not enough to be cherished in the mind’s eye like Ashton’s fifty-five year remembrance of Isadora Duncan.

Edited by Lori Ibay

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