Rambert: Ghost Dances, Festival Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Tomorrow: Lucy Guerin (choreography), Scanner (music), Conor Murphy (design), Lee Curran (lighting design).
Frames: Alexander Whitley (choreographer), Daniel Bjarnason (music), Revital Cohen Tuur Van Balen (design), Lee Curran (lighting design).
Ghost Dances: Christopher Bruce (choreography & set), South American folk music arranged by Nicholas Mojsiejenko (music), Nick Chelton (lighting design).
Joshua Barwick, Carolyn Bolton, Daniel Davidson, Julia Gillespie, Vanessa King, Adam Park, Stephen Wright, Miguel Altunaga, Lucy Balfour, Simone Damberg Wurtz, Edit Domosziai, Liam Francis, Jacob O'Connell, Hannah Rudd, Luke Ahmet, Pierre Tappon, Juan Gill (dancers).
Running time

Rambert’s 2016-17 tour of Britain includes five new music commissions in its repertoire, but it’s the long-awaited revival of Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances that names the show and seals its climax.

Consummate masters of the triple bill, Rambert choose two performances from their current touring repertoire to stand alongside Bruce’s enduring and resonant masterpiece. This evening, they begin with Lucy Guerin’s ‘Tomorrow’.

In 2015, Guerin co-directed a production of Macbeth at the Young Vic, where she worked to build movement into the text. ‘Tomorrow’ serves as an experimental next stage, in which the events of the play are severed from its underlying themes and emotions. On one side of the stage, performers in black walk through the pivotal moments of Macbeth in a deadpan, naturalistic mime. Separated by a detached low-hanging beam, performers on the other side are dressed in ragged, ethereal white shifts and dance their way through the plot, displaying the psychological turmoil lying beneath the correspondingly stark actions.

This piece is both intriguing and frustrating. Too complex to grasp without the programme notes and a good working knowledge of the plot of Macbeth, the thoughtful and inventive choreography executed with sublime skill on the ‘dancing’ side only serves to highlight the lack of either on the other. Add to this the confusion of the plot being acted in reverse, beginning at the end and ending where it begins, it is difficult to follow and at times feels more like work than pleasure.

‘Frames’, by nascent superstar choreographer Alexander Whitley, is next on tonight’s bill, inviting the audience to ponder the interaction of set, lighting and movement in the construction of a choreography. ‘Construction’ is both the theme and the action, as the dancers work with metal poles, linking them to create different forms that invite, frame and shape different movements.

Much is made of the construction of the frames and at times the dancers are more engaged in making than showing, which is perhaps absorbing for the performers but less fun for the audience. At intervals, lights are attached to the frames themselves and with clever lighting from beyond the dancers’ constructions, shadows and angles throw a multiplicity of perspectives and possibilities across the stage area. At such times, this performance is sheer magic.

And finally, there is Bruce’s Ghost Dances, moving and spectacular in choreography and performance, inspired by Joan Jara’s book that describes the horrors endured by the people of Chile during Pinochet’s reign of terror.

Against a back-drop of gently sloping hills, dimly lit, three skeleton figures stand, stock-still, wearing skull masks and staring into the distance while the sound of a bitter wind picks up around them. Evoking an eerie portent of doom, they perform a slow and rhythmic dance, arms looped around shoulders like Zorba The Greek gone to the dark-side. This could be South America or any place anywhere, it feels ancient and timeless and universal and silently sinister.

A band of peasants enter the scene, performing dances in pairs or groups, displaying the simple pleasures they find in their ordinary and everyday relationships. As they dance, pan pipes, guitars and live singers produce exquisite South American folk music. As the music stops and the wind starts up again, the three figures of death move among them, delicately devastating their peace.

The impact of this performance is the result of combining individual elements of near- perfection – concept, choreography, musical arrangement and composition and the final execution by dancers, musicians and singers. More than worth the ticket price for this performance alone.

Rambert is known for its experimentation, and when you push at the boundaries you don’t always break through. This means neither that you should stop pushing nor that valuable lessons are not learnt in the effort. Rambert has also become a by-word for excellence, and whether or not their various experiments work for you, a Rambert performance is always a surprise and never short of brilliant.

Runs 23rd – 25th November