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Rambert Dance Company

Season of New Choreography

by David Mead

May 31, 2012 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, UK

Rambert Dance Company has always nurtured young choreographers from within its ranks, and this year’s Season of New Choreography featured four pieces created by company dancers Dane Hurst, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Patricia Okenwa, and Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon, all to new music commissions, some played live by members of the Rambert Orchestra.

A woman lays on the floor, slowly stretching and turning in her sleep. Yet far from being relaxed, she seems tense. There is already an oppressive mood in the air that becomes increasingly highlighted as she starts to toss ever more violently. So begins Dane Hurst’s “The Window”, which focuses on events in a 1950 South African household as the impact of passing of the apartheid laws starts to take hold.

Port Elizabeth-born Hurst’s poignant and hard-hitting work takes us through several scenes, each well-structured and that got their message over clearly and effectively without ever outstaying their welcome. After our young lady has woken, her dream takes real form in a dance for the women of the family that is packed with Graham-like contractions, deep pliés and extended arms as they give vent to their anguish at being evicted from their home. In a later scene they are joined by the men for a dance around a large table that includes much pounding of fists as their anger pores forth. All the time, though, there is a sense that they know there is nothing they can do to fight the injustice that has been served upon them.

Best of all, though, is a scene in which three bare-chested men (Eryck Brahmania, Miguel Altunaga and Stephen Wright) assault one of the younger females of the family (Estela Merlos). It is all very reminiscent of Christopher Bruce’s “Swansong”. Like “Swansong” it starts with her on a chair. Using the new laws as a pretext for their violence, she is soon being manoeuvred and thrown around like a rag doll, and eventually left for dead. It seemed far more realistic that Bruce’s choreography and, maybe because it was three men are assaulting a woman, a combination Bruce never allowed, far more disturbing and menacing.

The mood was helped along by Chris Mayo’s steamy, tension-filled score, Paul Green’s clever lighting that drew you in, and Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s simple yet effective set that evoked a wooden shanty town home. Besides being well-danced, as was everything on show, “The Window” is well-structured and has a great sense of time and place. It is certainly on a par with some of the offerings on recent main company programmes and deserves to be seen by more than just those present at this one-off evening. Mark Baldwin, please take note.

Although “The Window” took the honours on the night, there was also much to admire among the other three pieces on show. Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon have already established something of a reputation as an innovative choreographic pairing, and their latest piece, “Heist” only proved the point further. Their starting point here was René Magritte’s comment that, “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” I’m not quite sure that I got that, but it was certainly an intriguing and suspense-filled piece quartet in which the choreographers were joined on stage by Eryck Brahmania and Estela Merlos.

Tension and suspense were also to the fore in Mbulelo Ndabeni’s “Face Up”. To music by cellist and composer Semay Wu that seemed to include dashes of everything from classical to club, Ndabeni explored the power struggle between two men, danced by himself and Miguel Altunaga. It was impossible to escape the feeling that much of that seen was very personal. Despite their differences, sometimes expressed quite physically and violently, there was also a sense of comradeship and togetherness that eventually transcended all.

Completing the programme, Patricia Okenwa’s “Vriditas” examined personal and shared rituals in female behaviour. After opening with the sound of a creaking door and various animal howls that made it feel like we had suddenly been banished into some sort of wilderness, essentially it involved five women in tennis dresses dancing on their own and in a circle to a neo-impressionist score by Rambert Music Fellow Mark Bowden that included lots of solo flute and runs and trills on harp and glockenspiel. At times they played with the polystyrene balls courtesy of Linbury Award-winning designer Hyemi Shin, a little like the princesses in “Firebird”. Moments of calmness compete with rather more frenetic conversational moments. While all very watchable, it was not particularly profound, and failed to make much of dent in the memory.

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