Night of rich rewards

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The Independent Culture
ONE UNEXPECTED benefit of the big new stage at the rebuilt Sadler's Wells Theatre became clear through Rambert Dance Company's second programme there. You might guess that works on a large scale would gain, and Ohad Naharin's Axioma 7, with a cast of 38 (19 dancers with 19 wooden chairs), found plenty of space for its jokey, agitated manoeuvres without looking cramped.

But who would have thought that the gains would be just as much at the opposite end of the scale? The other two works on this programme, both new productions, each provide many occasions when there are only one or two dancers on stage, and it quickly became evident that a duet, even when taking place more or less on the spot, looks much better for being framed in the empty space around it, while a solo can flicker far more strikingly across the wide area.

Merce Cunningham's August Pace, one of the new works, deploys its cast sparely and for the most part quietly in balances and jumps: seven men in black turtlenecks and pants, seven women similarly dressed in white, plus an odd girl out in black and white.

This production resumes an earlier working relationship between Rambert and the veteran American choreographer, and is announced as starting a new three-year collaboration. Created for Cunningham's own company in 1989, August Pace harks back to a more relaxed, personal style on his part, which suits the Rambert dancers' very engaged, committed approach. Michael Pugliese's score, arranged from recordings of various exotic instruments, adds a sometimes poignant contrast to the witty touches in the dances.

The evening's other premier also restored an earlier collaboration between company and choreographer, with the welcome return of Siobhan Davies to revive Embarque, which she created for Rambert in 1988. Inspired by a long journey across the plains and deserts of America, her dancers' twisting, leaning movements of constantly renewed energy echoed the drive and variety within repetition of the chosen music, Steve Reich's Octet.

This is one of the richest and most rewarding ballets we have seen in a long time, and the dancers, to judge by the way they perform, must find it as exhilarating as the audience do. Although wanting to draw special attention to the quality of Glenn Wilkinson in his duet with Rachel Poirier and the dashing speed of Didy Veldman in her solos, I fear that would be unfair to the rest of a pretty well perfect cast.

A worthy few words for the playing all week of Rambert's resident orchestra, London Musici, under Paul Hoskins's direction. From Bach, Mozart and Handel to Webern, Reich and DC Heath, they never do a thing wrong. If only other dance companies could have such musical support.

John Percival