First Night: New Sadler's Wells opens to social whirl

Rambert dance company sadler's wells
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The Independent Online
THE GALA opening of the new Sadler's Wells Theatre in Islington was an object lesson in what "working around the clock'' really means. For Monday night's dummy run there was an alarming number of dangling cables and stray step-ladders.

Last night's official opening was less like a student house-warming and more like the real thing and the great and good were out in force to drink to the sixth theatre on this historic site.

But what to wear? Most people had sensibly concluded that Islington was more matt black than black tie and the stalls and circle were expensively upholstered with Savile Row and Armani.

There were a few ball gowns but these looked more out of place than denim in a theatre that didn't even bother with the traditional national anthem.

Photographers combed the excited throng in the foyer in search of famous faces, including Cherie and Tony Blair, Chris Smith, Trevor Phillips, Richard E Grant, Janet Suzman and Wayne Sleep. The house reeked of rich sponsors and massive goodwill.

They were ready and willing to have a very good time indeed (the free- flowing fizz from Mont-Marcal was a big help.

The entertainment was provided by the Rambert Dance Company. Rambert are a splendid troupe, with a loyal following, but most of the gala audience was really there to see the theatre and air kiss. Artistic director Christopher Bruce would have done well to remember that.

Instead of pulling out all the stops with a lively, crowd-pleasing programme Bruce decided to present an over-long quadruple bill that was very much business-as-usual.

There were two works from Jiri Kylian, artistic director of Netherlands Dans Theater, one work from the distinguished American choreographer Paul Taylor and a fine new piece from Bruce himself.

It was a class act, it was superbly danced and I enjoyed it but it was not the stuff to give this lot.

The result was perversely low-key and doggedly lacking in showbiz and although the audience received the excellent dancers with hearty politeness there was none of the enthusiasm that they would have shown for a more cannily chosen programme.

And it's not as if Rambert don't have blockbusters in their repertoire. Bruce may be weary of pleasing crowds with his exhilarating Rolling Stones piece Rooster but it would have made a better calling card for Rambert and for modern dance in general. He should have played to the gallery a little.

The new Wells certainly deserved a show that pulled out all the stops and that showed off the potential of this fine purpose-built dance house.

The wide, handsome stage is truly magnificent and although the auditorium is not a thing of beauty the sight lines are excellent.

And the intervals aren't bad either. Old Wells-goers, inured to the smelly squeeze of the old bar and foyer, could hardly believe the airy generosity of the public spaces.

As the double decker buses whizzed by, the passengers turned to gaze in wonder at the gilded folk behind the vast new wall of glass. A great occasion. It is a pity that Rambert didn't quite rise to it.