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Rambert Dance Company

No More Play, Petite Mort, Four Scenes, Airs

October 1998
London, Sadler's Wells

by Lynette Halewood


Rambert Reviews

'Four Scenes' reviews





This was a memorable night: not perhaps in the way that the organisers would have planned, but one not to be forgotten. The occasion was the reopening of Sadlerís Wells after a closure period of nearly two years. During this period, the Opera House has also closed for rebuilding. London had no dedicated dance theatre, and the ROH have seemed intent on self destruction, in which they are all too likely to succeed. So after all the Covent Garden doom, gloom, resignations and recriminations, the opening of a new theatre devoted to dance is a welcome ray of light.

It very nearly didnít happen. There had been persistent rumours that the building schedule was too ambitious (they couldnít afford to close for longer, because they need the revenue: Sadlerís Wells gets a very modest level of funding from the Arts Council) and opening was likely to be delayed. On the day, ticket holders were instructed to ring in to check Ďfinal detailsí. All through the afternoon the messages were updated. The theatre was undergoing its final licensing inspection...the stalls seating had been licensed...now the circle...inspection of the second circle was continuing (this at 5:30 !). In fact we had to wait until just after 8pm, half an hour after the scheduled start, before we finally got into the auditorium and a visibly drained Ian Albery announced the licence had been granted, the performance could go ahead, and (to an even bigger cheer) that the bars were now licensed to serve alcohol.

The good news about Sadlerís Wells is that the plan has obviously been thought through with consideration for both audience and performers. The stage is about as wide as Covent Garden, and very deep, substantially larger than before. Sight lines are good (speaking from the cheap seats in the second circle). There is plenty of room (pale, light and airy) for the audience to move around in during intervals (the old Sadlerís was more like Victoria station in the rush hour), and lots of space for exhibitions, not used yet. I do wish the money had extended to padded rather than wooden armrests for the seats, but otherwise it was very comfortable. Or it will be, when itís finished.

Iíve never been to a theatre which bore such a close resemblance to a building site before. It was easy to see why Islington council had been so worried about the licence. The decoration isnít so much unfinished as not started: great panels are missing everywhere, cables are looped up in piles, cement mixers parked outside. Men in hard hats wandered among the audience, looking as bemused as we were. The bars were not yet stocked, the cash registers working unpredictably, the computer system for issuing tickets behaving in mysteriously recalcitrant ways, the toilets on the second circle non functional, and the heating wasnít working. Evidently there is only one dressing room completed, and the dancers were rumoured to be rehearsing in masks because of the dust. Still all this can be fixed, and it will, and London has a fine new dance venue which has a varied and interesting programme arranged through to April next year. After that there is a gaping hole due to the ROHís pulling out of its commitments, though at least some compensation for Sadlerís Wells has been agreed. (Perhaps we will have some interesting visitors as a consequence ?).

In the circumstances, I think we were all willing Rambert to do well. It did seem a good choice of company to open the theatre, underlining both history (Ballet Rambertís links with Sadlerís Wells go back to the thirties) and Sadlerís commitment to contemporary dance as well as ballet. There were four items on the program: opening with Kylianís No More Play and Petite Mort: a new commission from Christopher Bruce, Four Scenes, and Paul Taylorís Airs. On reflection, it wasnít that festive a program: it didnít go all out to wow the audience, but it was a solid representation of Rambertís repertoire and direction. Although the performances were well received, something more exuberant might have fitted the occasion better.

No More Play and Petite Mort have been in Rambertís repertoire for some time now, and the cast had the confidence and poise that comes with familiarity. These are given as companion pieces - some of the costumes of the second piece have begun to invade the first, and the two share phrases and gestures. No More Play is a more sparse, even sombre work: it has a sculptural quality, as if the dancerís poses had been carved or moulded. The supported balances are imaginative and difficult, and were handled with considerable grace. I must mention the lighting in both Kylian works. It is beautifully thought through and executed and the pools of light through which the dancers moved contributed tremendously to the mood. (Nice to know something in the building was working). Although there were only five dancers in this piece, they didnít look lost on the stage, but dominated it. Despite its size (1500 seats, approximately) the theatre remains quite intimate. Cast in this were Didy Veldman, Maria Sardon Urtiaga, Paul Liburd, Jan de Schynkel, Conor OíBrien.

Petite Mort was perhaps lighter in mood: six couples, the men sporting foils which whistled wonderfully through the air. (Good acoustics: this might have been lost in a larger theatre). Lots of sexual overtones, some rather tongue in cheek. The freestanding Ďcostumes on wheels Ď for the women led to outbursts of giggles - I thought they were great fun. The pas de deux were smoothly and unhurriedly executed. A popular piece with the audience.

Christopher Bruceís new work, Four Scenes, is set to Celtic music by D.C. Heath, and uses four couples. Bruce often makes works which merit repeated viewings to grasp all their implications, and this is one: there are complex ideas about time and memory which would repay further observation. The Celtic tones of the music put me initially in mind of Puirt-a-Beul, a recent piece by Tuckett for the Royal Ballet, which will be at Sadlerís Wells next week. But that is a light-hearted piece, a young manís ballet with no dark undertones: Bruceís work is the product of an older , more reflective and troubled intelligence. Initially, we see four couples - children - playing. Initially the mood is light-hearted and cheerful, but the games played take on a darker note as the characters imagine their future roles and how life might treat them. I say imagine: Iím not sure if we see children imagining what their lives might be like, or Bruce illustrating a series of different potential paths which might or might not happen. The couples are strongly contrasted: the happy unselfconscious couple diving into bed together: a nasty, troubled relationship with overtones of violence. My favourite was Glenn Wilkinson doggedly trying to impress Dierdre Chapman who was having nothing of it: this was beautifully observed, very funny, and the vagaries of courtship were perfectly expressed through dance. The characters suddenly shift into visions of themselves in old age before finally returning to the status quo as at the opening scene. The dance itself is light and fluid, like the music, incorporating skipping and hopscotch quite unselfconsciously. Vibrant costume and set designs from Es Devlin.

Airs was the joyous closer, rapturously received by the audience. It provided a celebratory note, which was perhaps lacking in the earlier pieces, good though they were. Lovely music which just cried out to be danced to. Rambertís musicians (London Musici) were in good form. Airs is another old Rambert favourite, but itís easy to see why they stage it regularly. It has that characteristic of good choreography, where the steps seem so completely obvious and appropriate and yet a constant surprise at the same time. Like getting the perfect surprise birthday present. Fine performances from the cast who looked as if they were really enjoying themselves.

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