Rambert has marvellous dancers, but does it have material worthy of them? The company’s autumn tour features two new works, Ashley Page’s patchy Subterrain and Barak Marshall’s spiteful The Castaways. Yet the performances are full of weighted strength and luscious phrasing.
Rambert, which dropped “dance company” from its name in a recent re-branding, is currently riding high, with a shiny new home built London’s South Bank. Though the company’s commitment to new work is admirable, the revivals of the autumn tour repertory are more fun.
Subterrain, which had its world premiere at this performance, is set to music by composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and electronic musician Aphex Twin. Two dancers perch on Jon Morrell’s heavy set, climbing through a trapdoor to stage level. Morrell’s scenery is striking but underused.
Dressed in autumnal colours, the ten dancers wind around each other in duets or lope into group dances. Ashley Page, a former director of Scottish Ballet, coasts over Turnage’s clangorous, dissonant music, not getting to grips with its jagged structures.
Page is happier with the atmospheric hums of Aphex Twin, the dancing becoming slower and much more charged. Two dancers mirror each other’s movements, watching each other like cats. There’s a mix of competition and flirtation as they match each other with unruffled cool. Subterrain is uneven, but has fine moments.
After a taut performance of The Comedy of Change, created by Rambert director Mark Baldwin in 2009, The Castaways seems deceptively jolly. American-born choreographer Barak Marshall uses a cheerful jumble of music, from Yiddish pop to cheesy 1950s novelties. The dancers, in mid-20th-century clothes by Jon Bausor, are all trapped underground.
One introduces his fellows: the mean girls, the dreamer, the jilted bride. The spoken introductions fix them as stereotypes, but we’re told their identities rather than shown their characters. Marshall suggests that they deserve to be trapped, since all twelve are weak or vicious. The Castaways becomes a nasty puppet show, with sloppy characterisation and a lot of shouting.
The dancers act out little scenarios, fight and pop balloons. Bursts of dancing show bouncy echoes of folk or social dances, then it’s back to the screaming. Rambert’s dancers make the most of their moves, but some struggle with spoken dialogue. They’re all limited by Marshall’s one-note cynicism, trapped by their choreographer in more ways than one.
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