Returning to Brighton’s Theatre Royal with their Spring 2014 tour, Rambert came armed with dances old and new in the hope that they would capture the hearts and minds of Brighton’s contemporary dance lovers once again. Rambert have delivered some of their best and worst repertoires at the Theatre Royal over the years – 2011’s Awakenings Tour still sticks in my mind as one of the companies more disappointing shows – so it was with both excitement and trepidation that I sat down to watch the four dances selected for the evening.
First up was The Castaways, a new work by Barak Marshall, which followed the journey of twelve souls trapped in a hellish no-mans-land of their own creation. A multi-disciplinary performance piece that combined acting, speech and dance, The Castaways was an infusion of dark humour and exotic music that conjured visions of countries around the world – from New York to the Balkans. We were treated to a colourful array of characters ranging from Latin lovers to a jilted bride, introduced by the hollow-eyed emcee who successfully produced some genuine chortles from the audience.
The music set the scene, as we watched in an almost big-brother like fashion while these extreme personas fell prey to their own weaknesses. Whilst unquestionably original and imaginative, The Castaways suffered in the many static moments where dance was replaced by sections of acting. It felt more like an avant-garde play than a dance performance, which is a shame as the dance content was quite exciting – when it got going. The scenes of characters arguing might have aided the piece’s theme but it carried on too long, slowing the choreography down and stunting its momentum.
Despite the tedium that came from the scenes where dancers stomped around the stage yelling at each other in what could only be described as a continental Eastenders, there was a playfulness that made the work enjoyable to watch. By not taking itself too seriously, The Castaways was a great introduction to an ever-evolving contemporary dance company.
After a 20 minute interval the next two works were presented. The first, Dutiful Ducks, was a solo performed by Rambert veteran Dane Hurst. Followers of Rambert will know that Hurst is a force to be reckoned with –a beautiful, lithe and accomplished dancer whose elevation and fluidity is a joy to watch. Sadly Dutiful Ducks only lasted for a few minutes and felt more like a warm up to something bigger than a full piece of work. Watching Hurst light up the stage single-handedly, albeit briefly, went some way to showing why Rambert are at the top of their game.
Following on from Dutiful Ducks was Sounddance, a straight piece of contemporary that left the fluff of appealing music and costume at home. Choreographed by Merce Cunningham, this was very much a work created by a dancer for dancers. Whilst the movement content screamed Cunningham, the musical accompaniment actually screamed. Piercing, man-made sounds, that might as well have been nails scraping on a black board, made me wince to the point where I found it difficult to concentrate on the movements being performed. The essence of Sounddance is described as “a lifetime that passes in 17 minutes”, but it felt like 17 hours to me. Hard-core contemporary aficionados will love this performance but it wasn’t for me.
After another 20 minute interval I was feeling distinctly deflated and all my hopes rested on Christopher Bruce’s Rooster – a celebration of the music and attitudes of the 1960s and 70s. Saving the best ‘til last, it was as if the Rambert Company had come to life – treating audience members to a work that is simply timeless (it first premiered in 1991!). Set to music by The Rolling Stones, tracks like Little Red Rooster, Paint It Black, Ruby Tuesday and, my favourite, Sympathy for the Devil, paved the way for the dancers to really let loose and show what they’re made of. Stylish and slick, with a healthy dose of fun, Rooster really captured the 60s/70s feel, with Bruce’s choreography nothing short of ingenious. The battle between the sexes was expertly portrayed, with the male dancers taking on the cockerel persona, jutting their chins and posturing in front of the feisty females. If you want to see contemporary dance at its best, it really doesn’t get any better than this.
Playfully introduced by The Castaways and finished off in style with Rooster, Rambert have once again put on a show to be proud of (if you forget the dreadful middle segment which still has my ears ringing). These are world class dancers, working with world class choreography and, with pieces like Rooster, Rambert are an unstoppable force. Another enjoyable performance at Brighton’s Theatre Royal – a venue that never ceases to deliver a wonderful evening of culture and entertainment. If you can get to see Rambert’s Spring tour – if only to see Rooster – you must.