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Rambert Dance Company

'Swamp', 'A Tragedy of Fashion', 'Elsa Canasta'

Making connections

by Kate Snedeker

November 10, 2004 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

People often say that relationships are all about communication, whether the feelings of those involved are conveyed via spoken words or physical cues. It is this unspoken, physical language of relationships that the Rambert Dance Company explored in Michael Clark's "Swamp”, Ian Spink's "A Tragedy of Fashion”, and Javier De Fruto's "Elsa Canasta". These three very different but intriguing pieces made up a fascinating evening of dance at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

"Swamp", created for the company by Clark nearly a decade ago, involves "changing relationships". Clad in brown, then metallic blue unitards, the dancers weave and twist through a series of never-ending pas de deuxs. Bruce Gilbert's electronic music, though eventually somewhat repetitive, gives the piece a pulsating feel, almost a heart beat by which the relationships thrive and dissolve.

One motif of the choreography that illustrates the coming together and breaking up of the relationships is the use of the arabesque in attitude derriere. The bent leg sometimes reaches out to envelop the other person and at other times pulls in to spin the dancer inward and away from being embraced or touched by their partner. With the constant flow, the cast of eight seems like a cast of millions, each little section a unique relationship. This small, but large cast was superb, especially in the sections requiring slow, controlled movement. The costumes were by Bodymap with Charles Atlas contributing the lighting design.

Jumping back more than half a century, "A Tragedy of Fashion" looked at life, love and loss in the 1930s. In this reworking of Frederick Ashton's original ballet, Ian Spink keeps the central story of a milliner driven to suicide by his fashion show failure, but spices up the storyline by adding people and events from Ashton's real life. Starting at a funeral, proceeding to a ballet class and a fashion show and ending in heaven, it is confusing piece for those not familiar with Ashton's life, as evidenced by the lukewarm response.

Of the many connections between Ashton and the fashion world, perhaps the most relevant is that of his father, a milliner, who committed suicide two years prior to the debut of the original version of "A Tragedy of Fashion". We see Ashton reflected in the lead character of the couturier, Duchin, and the alter ego, Diego. Duchin arises from his coffin to conduct a ballet class and choreograph a ballet, then jumps right to preparation for his grand fashion show. The fashions, which get increasingly ludicrous, ending in a dress with a ruff that resembles a lion's mane more than a collar, push Duchin over the edge. The ballet concludes as Duchin and others dance in a stark, white heaven. Throughout the piece, the relationships of Duchin and the other characters, are illustrated in the dance. His dancers sneak a kiss with him, each other and the photographer, and later he interacts with his alter ego, his models and his assistants. Intimate relationships are many, complicated and not only heterosexual.

The set, dominated by a large mock up of a dressmaker's pattern, is imaginatively rendered by Antony McDonald and Juliette Blondelle, who also did the spectacular and sometimes amusing costumes. The cast, led by Simon Cooper, Thomasin Gülgec and Ana Lujan Sanchez, gave each role energy and distinctive character; but all the pieces did not quite fit together properly. The jumps from scene to scene often felt jarring because the story was not quite cohesive enough to link them together. And for those not familiar with the people in Ashton's life, at times the ballet must have felt like an inside joke from the outside (unfortunately Rambert, Nijinska and Massine are no longer familiar names to many theater goers). Yet, it's a humorous, touching and colorful piece, performed with much edge and verve. The music is by Elena Kats-Chernin.

Closing the evening was the relative new and welcome addition to the company repertoire, "Elsa Canasta". Both stage and dancers are outfitted in sleek greys, the set dominated but not overpowered by a curved, metal staircase leading to an unseen door. As Cole Porter's music wafts across the stage, a whole series of relationships are played out on and around the staircase. It is the very first section which is perhaps the most powerful -- a sultry, erotic and tension filled pas de deux for two men, two lovers. The pas de deux, which takes place entirely on the staircase, crackles with passion, ending as the men one by one stroll up the stairs and out the door to ... Thomasin Gülgec and ? are superb in the languid, but controlled movements, demonstrating impressive flexibility and intensity.

De Frutos makes great use of the stairway: it becomes an entrance and an exit and a jumping off point when women leap into the arms of the men. He even brings Balanchine into the mix, having two men and their respective trios of women each strike a pose that is reminiscent of the now famous "troika" image from "Apollo" where the god supports his three muses in arabesque. As a whole, the piece was superbly performed, the dancers adding just the right mix of intensity and tongue in cheek humor into the erotic choreography.

Rachel Weston, the guest singer, had a pleasant voice, but her voice lacked the power and lushness needed to make the Cole Porter tunes come alive, especially over the full sound of the London Musici orchestra, which played for the last two pieces under the baton of Ben Pope. Designs were by Jean-Marc Puissant and lighting by Giuseppe Di Iorio.

Edited by Jeff

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