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Rambert Dance Company

'Rainforest', 'Seven for a Secret Never to be Told', 'Elysian Fields'

by David Mead

November 15, 2011 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

Of the two world premieres on Rambert’s latest London programme it was Javier de Frutos’ “Elysian Fields” that took the honours, the title being a reference to the New Orleans street in the Tennessee Williams classic “A Streetcar Named Desire”, from which liberal use is made of the text, spoken by the cast.

The dance all takes place in a circle around which are placed a number of regular and oversize chairs designed by Katrina Lindsay that lend the setting a vaguely Alice in Wonderland look. De Frutos uses the text between the danced episodes in much the same way as Ben Duke (of Lost Dog) does so successfully. Using speech this way works well. Here, it certainly added to the steamy mood and is particularly effective in the opening scene-setter (especially Gemma Nixon’s part). Mind you, the longer the piece goes on and the more out of breath the dancers get, the more their attempts at a Southern accent go awry and the more difficult it gets to catch every word.

De Frutos’ steps hit the mark too. Wisely, he doesn’t attempt to recreate characters or scenes directly from the book, focusing instead on conveying the intensity of its underlying moods. He does so most successfully, the dance having a melodramatic energy and reeking of sexual tension and abandon. Christopher Austin’s reworking of Alex North’s film score is a perfect accompaniment. It all makes for gripping stuff, in the case of the dancers sometimes quite literally.

Artistic director Mark Baldwin’s “Seven for a secret, never to be told” looked equally promising. He has been working with Cambridge University Professor of Comparative Cognition, Nicola Clayton. Her interesting programme note reminded how children perceive the world around them, and their place therein very differently from adults. Among other things, she referred to the “tension between the inside and the outside” and shifts in perspective.

There was no sign of that, or any other darker aspects of childhood, in the piece though, Baldwin instead focusing exclusively on children at play. The result is an innocent, desperately sugar-sweet look at being young that all takes place in a chocolate-box like glade surrounded by weeping willow trees through which the sun glints. It’s a hark back to the childhood of our dreams, one most definitely seen through rose-tinted glasses.

When Baldwin focuses on non-narrative dance that embodies the spirit of childhood, “Seven for a secret” works very well. Antonette Dayrit stood out a mile as the leading girl. The choreography is mostly lyrical, rather balletic and easy on the eye, helped along enormously by Stephen McNeff’s pleasant score based on Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les Sortilèges”. It’s when he gets down to mini-stories and characterisation that things go awry. Adults pretending to children is almost always embarrassing and this was no exception. An early dance that had some of the men boxing (complete with boxing gloves) did not bode well, and having a couple of the women play out a girls’ tea party complete with doll and toy bird just made them look silly. The audience seemed to be of much the same view. They clapped at the end, but the silence during the piece was deafening, despite there being clear definition of scenes, and there being enough of a pause between most that invited applause.

Opening the evening was Merce Cunningham 1968 classic, “RainForest”. The cast gave a slightly different take on the piece to that presented by the Cunningham company a month earlier at the Barbican. In particular, the sense of sense of detachment and lack of affect that makes the work so intriguing was missing. The Rambert cast showed greater attack and were much more expressive. There was an impression throughout of trying to convey meaning, even at times a sense of narrative. It was also a shame that Andy Warhol’s helium-filled silver pillow-shaped balloons refused steadfastly to participate in proceedings, most of them remaining resolutely in one place.

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