Merce Cunningham's Pond Way is full of echoes and reflections, pure dance suggesting darting fish, drifting pondweed, the movement of water. Rambert Dance Company, performing this 1998 work for the first time, responds to its rigour and beauty.
Pond Way is Rambert's eighth work by Cunningham, one of the great pioneers of American dance. The curtain goes up on a stage full of quiet activity, a large group of dancers moving and turning. Brian Eno's score is a wash of electronic sound. On the backdrop, by the pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, big newsprint dots make up a soft landscape.
Suzanne Gallo dresses the dancers in silk, fabric sliding gently over bare limbs. Torsos stretch and relax, arms ripple like plant fronds in water. All at once, the whole company change direction, like a shoal of fish turning. The animal life in Pond Way is there and gone in a minute, solos flashing out from the middle of corps dances. In one recurring move, the dancers jump with knees out and feet together. There's something irresistibly froggy about those bent knees, but the jump also suggests insects hovering and dipping.
Cunningham's steps are demanding, and the Rambert dancers are still adjusting to this fluid, lovely work. There were some wobbles, but this is already a fine production, with some outstanding performances. Dane Hurst has terrific speed and attack in the skipping jumps. In a sinuous, sensuous solo, Mikaela Polley arches her back and tilts her hips through voluptuous changes of direction. There's a lavish stretch and pull to every tiny shift of weight - movement so rich that you can guess how it would feel in your own skin.
Divine Influence, a new duet by Martin Joyce, a company dancer, was developed in Rambert's last choreography workshop. Joyce stands in a spotlit circle, reaching up to the light, with Angela Towler waiting behind him. As the music starts, the two bound into action, swinging arms like pistons and snapping feet. Both wear loose silk skirts - sometimes fluttering them prettily, sometimes yanking them up to show their underwear.
Joyce says that he wanted to use ballet exercises and to push against their constraints. That constraint, that precision, is one of the most interesting things in Divine Influence. But Joyce's steps are bold and exact, danced with gusto. Though he takes energy from the fast movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, played by Stephen Lade, Joyce doesn't get to grips with its structure.
Lade appears on stage in Antony Tudor's Judgement of Paris, playing tipsy Kurt Weill numbers for Tudor's black comedy. Amy Hollingsworth, Pieter Symonds and Lucila Alves are magnificently blowsy as three prostitutes trying to tempt a drunken client.
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