Contemporary doesn't have to mean new. Some contemporary dance has now been around 30, 40 years, and though it still wears its newness like a badge, it has earned the right to be called classic as much as any Dior handbag or Eames chair.
Merce Cunningham made RainForest in 1968 and everything about it shouts Summer of Love: the blank-eyed dancers in their ripped nude leotards (Andy Warhol, the designer, had wanted them stark naked but Cunningham said no); the spacey David Tudor soundscape that evokes tropical birds and insects, generated by what looks like a set of Woodstock camper's cookware; most of all Warhol's helium-filled silver pillows, half of which float randomly around, the rest remaining on the floor as if too drugged up to care.
Yet the choreography is anything but slouchy. Locked into a series of mysterious internal rhythms, dancers scoot through the cloudbanks of pillows – while determinedly oblivious of them – maintaining meticulous poses. Steep balances involve a raised foot as carefully pointed as any ballerina's. There are pinpricks of humour, as dancers shuffle on their elbows like lizards. Even a closing cold-turkey thrash is carefully composed, its frenzy undercut by the narcotic dreaminess of all that shiny floating.
It all feels so authentically Sixties, you wouldn't guess that Rambert is performing the work for the first time. Cunningham (who died last July, aged 90, still creating) rarely trusted any dancers other than his own with his work. Yet for Rambert he made an exception, and on this evidence, his faith was well placed. This is Rambert's ninth acquisition from the Cunningham catalogue, and they do his spirit proud.
Siobhan Davies's The Art of Touch is also new to this company, and looks markedly different from when her own bunch first did it 15 years ago – more athletic, more theatrical. An exhilarating study in musical touch and human touch, it's set to Scarlatti's skittering keyboard sonatas (played live, with thrilling élan, by Carole Cerasi) and a more introspective response to these from composer Matteo Fargion.
Impossible as it may be to embody a sound, Davies gets intriguingly close. Against David Buckland's darkly burnished copper walls, the seven dancers fleetly imitate the pluck of the harpsichord's action, its sprinting scales, its tumbling chords, and at one point even appear to be measuring out wavelengths of sound, all of this woven into a silken skein of elegant movement. Utterly engrossing.
Itzik Galili's carnival-inspired A Linha Curva brings proceedings to a boisterous close. With its pops at male vanity, its raunchy glorifying of muscular women, its fabulous samba drumming and crazy lighting (each of the 28 dancers picked out in their own coloured spot), it deservedly brings the house down.
Some of those same performers cropped up in This is The Place, a 40th-birthday tribute to the cradle of British contemporary dance. What had been a bashed-up rifle range tucked away near Euston station became – from the late Sixties on – a seedbed for such luminaries as Siobhan Davies and Richard Alston, and later for Wayne McGregor, Jonzi D, Hofesh Shechter and Aletta Collins, who curated this show. You could have toasted muffins on the warmth of feeling generated by the mix of filmed reminiscence and live vintage dance extracts that filled the best part of three hours. Heady, happy days.
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