First Night: Passionate dance stings the senses

Cruel Garden Ballet Rambert London

WHEN LINDSAY Kemp and Christopher Bruce teamed up in 1977 to make Rambert Dance Company's Cruel Garden, they found they had made a hit.

This was dance theatre that pressed all the right buttons: tragic, beautiful, vivid with, in the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, a subject matter that could only win the hearts of decent-thinking people. And now, revived this year for the centenary of Lorca's birth, it still has an emotional sting, albeit weakened by a liberal sprinkling of Kemp cliches and blunt editing scissors.

Lorca was killed by the Spanish Fascists in 1936, but no one knows precisely how he died. Being art, Cruel Garden shows his murder and lingers over the horror, the dying poet tossed like a slab of meat from tormentor to tormentor, then struggling to stand alone on his faltering legs before his final collapse.

In the original staging, Bruce was the central Lorca figure who appears as matador, bride, Buster Keaton (a reference to Lorca's screen play featuring the comedian), and as melancholic white-faced poet.

Conor O'Brien last night made a strong impact, plunging into the movement of his two major solos with a sensational intensity. As the matador, he battles with Simon Cooper's Bull, all suitably big, brutal dance shapes, later revealed as a symbol of masculine oppression and the henchman of the Franco-like Inquisitor.

The piece is a clever web of metaphors and associations. It also brings us yet again Kemp's love affair with dry ice, green lighting and seedy, fantastical archetypes.

The big mistake is the intrusive surrealist episode, which, like the Lorca screen play it enacts, should have been laid to rest in a drawer. The surrealism, though, comes as part of a longer section evoking Lorca's disillusion with America. And this includes the pinnacle of the performance: Paul Liburd's coiled power in a Negro dance, and extraordinary solo built from motifs of agony, labour and black jazz dance.

Carlos Miranda's colourful score, played by London Musici, is just as effective, accompanying a cast of dancers and singers who perform with a passion that the theme of Cruel Garden deserves.

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