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Rambert Dance Company - 'Mahler and Dance' Program

'Songs of a Wayfarer', 'Five Rückert Songs', 'Dark Elegies'

The man for all seasons

by Kate Snedeker

September 2, 2004 -- Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh

With the 2004 Edinburgh International Festival drawing to a close, the powerful and poetic "Mahler and Dance" provides an impressive finale. This program takes a unique look at Gustav Mahler's music as interpreted by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Rambert Dance Company and three very different choreographers, Antony Tudor, Peter Darrell and Kim Brandstrup.

The evening opened with the world premiere of Kim Brandstrup's "Songs of a Wayfarer". A melancholic piece, it traces the evolution of a young man's recovery from the pain of being jilted by his lover. The curtain rise on a nearly bare stage, lit by Steven Scott's glowing panels, which shimmer in deep reds and blues as the lighting changes. In a motif which repeats itself, Thomasin Gülgec's young man sits on his knees, rocking back and forth in total silence. Ana Lujan Sanchez, as the lover who jilted him, stands nearby and he reaches for her, momentarily grabbing her with one hand before she slides out and away. As the piece progressed, two other couples and another man join in the dancing.

Brandstrup's choreography is well suited to the Rambert dancers, who have a strong base both in classical and modern techniques. The women often slide into deep splits, one leg high in the air and the men hold on to the other arm. Arching away from their partners, they illustrate the yearning to be free - free of a lover perhaps or free of the pain of losing love. Another motif is a double bounce or demi plie that is done almost as an accent in many of the positions.

Vocalist Gerald Finley was a superb interpreter of Mahler's songs, but his voice was occasionally overpowered by the full sound of the 84-member Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It is rare to have such a large orchestra to accompany a dance group, but it was an inspired idea, and the orchestra was superb.

Following "Songs of a Wayfarer" was the premiere of the Rambert Dance Company's new production of Peter Darrell's "Five Rückert Songs." Based loosely Mahler's songs of the same name, the ballet is centered around the reminisces ofa woman coming to terms with her own mortality. Originally choreographed in 1978, and one of the centerpieces of the Scottish Ballet repertory, "Five Rückert Songs" is given a passionate new look with richly hued costumes and set by Yolanda Sonnabend. The men are in dark blue slacks and tattered vests painted in cloudlike puffs of white and blue, the women in long dresses in bright orange-red hues with a streak of blue in the front. The abstract back drop reflects this vivid palette, but fades into darkness when the lights are dimmed.

As the central figure, Angela Towler luxuriates in the deep bends and curves of Farrell's choreography, but maintains a necessary tension. At one point she is lifted up by the male corps, the female corps arrayed below here, looking like an angel or a person being lifted up into heaven in a Renaissance painting. The image of heaven is rekindled in the end, when she walks off the stage into a lone beam of light. Again the Rambert dancers demonstrated an impressive grasp of technique, flow and emotion. Mezzo-soprano Jane Irwin was superb.

The evening ended with the oldest piece, Antony Tudor's heart-rending "Dark Elegies". Set to Mahler's "Songs on the Death of Children," the ballet is about a community where the children have all been killed. It refers to no specific time or place, and thus is as relevant now - as we see children dying in Darfur and Iraq and held hostage in Russia -- as it was in 1937 at the time of the Spanish Civil War.

Rambert's version of the ballet is rarely seen, as it is the "Dark Elegies" that Tudor created it in London, not the later version danced by companies in the United States. Accompanied by Gerald Finley singing the five songs, the piece is stark, both in costume and choreography. Nadia Benois' costumes are reminiscent of traditional Mennonite clothing - white bonnets and long, simple dresses for the women, and dark pants, white shirts and straight cut jackets for the men.

Tudor's choreography combines restraint with passion created out of searing pain. The four solos and single pas de deux tend not to travel across the stage, but convey agony and grief in sharp, simple gestures and vertical jumps. The women's hands stretch out, as if yearning to pull their lost children back to this world, and the flail in precise chopping motions, beating the invisible evil. Though the long, lanky Cameron McMillan and the short, compact Fabrice Serafino were diametric opposites in body type, they both were excellent in the restrained, but powerful male solos which emphasized quick, crisp movements and angular positions. The dancers are generally assembled in straight lines or a circle, stark geometric shapes, devoid of the color or chaos that children bring into the world.

An evening that was an unusual and exhilarating combination of dance, music and poetry, "Mahler and Dance" was one of the highlights of the 2004 Festival and a wonderful inspiration for future events.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was under the baton of Paul Hoskins. Lighting for "Five Rückert Songs" was by George Thomson, while Malcolm Glanville recreated John B. Read's original lighting for "Dark Elegies." The former piece was reconstructed by Kirstin Johnson, the latter by Sally Martin.

Edited by Jeff.

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