What a relief it is, after the negligible dances and silly videos of Rambert Dance Company's last premier, to see a creation where it is the music and choreography that matter, and both are entirely successful.
The title Living Toys is taken from the score, one of Thomas Adès's first successes, written the best part of a decade ago, when he was in his early twenties. This is not easy music to play, requiring virtuoso solos from 14 instrumentalists. Luckily, Rambert's orchestra, London Musici, is up to it, and luckily, too, the music, full of contrasted and unusual effects, makes an immediate appeal to its audience. I cannot improve on the assessment by the music's director, Paul Hoskins: that the listener experiences "a huge range of sounds, in turn disturbing, consoling, haunting, beautiful and surreal''.
Karole Armitage's dances take their shape directly from the music in a remarkably complex way. She uses the full company, 22 dancers, and devises astonishing patterns for them that they perform to perfection. The most amazing moment comes after she first deploys a line of seven dancers right across the stage, in bold movements that fit perfectly with what we are hearing.
Then, startlingly, she brings on another line in front of them, dancing different sequences that also fit the score ideally. Finally, as if that achievement weren't enough, a further line arrives at the back with another dance pattern altogether - again just right for the music. Suddenly the whole group forms an unusual arrowhead shape, dancing in unison, before separating again into triple lines facing the front.
If you want to look for influences, I suggest George Balanchine (for whom Armitage danced years ago) as having helped to shape some of the mass effects, or at other times Merce Cunningham, another of her early masters. Moreover, Armitage has made something of her own from these diverse experiences, and the movement is original in the way it combines twisted shapes with classical steps in solo and duet form.
Peter Speliopoulous has dressed all the dancers in white material wrapped separately around their chests and loins, upper and lower arms, thighs and calves; they also wear stocking masks over their heads. The effect is strange and ambiguous - you think of jointed dolls or people in armour, perhaps even of skeletons or ghosts - yet elegant, too. The effect is to prompt thought about the significance of the ensembles. For the ballet carries a meaning although without the slightest hint of narrative.
Starting from a single woman alone on stage, and ending with her too, it develops increasingly complicated relationships among its large cast. On an empty stage, decorated only by the varying patterns of light and dark from three large lamps hanging overhead, the dancers and their links to the music constantly hold the interest spellbound.Reuse content