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Review 1, 12-1: Upstairs, Downstairs
Rambert, Dressed Up by Armitage, Hyped Up by McGregor, and Whirled
About by de Frutos
By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask
LONDON -- Rambert Dance
Company, fresh and feisty with new dancers and newish artistic director
Mark Baldwin, hit town last week with a program which included two
local premieres, Karole Armitage's "Living Toys" and Javier de Frutos's
"Elsa Canasta." The company, which predominantly tours outside of
London, performed at Sadler's Wells midway through its current tour
and attracted a wildly enthusiastic young audience. Also showing
were two short works by company member and Rambert School graduate
Glenn Wilkinson and Wayne McGregor's "PreSentient." Central to most
of the work was unusual and eclectic music played live by London
Musici, Rambert's associate orchestra.
Armitage's "Living Dolls"
was inspired by the music of the same name by British composer Thomas
Ades, comprised of a huge collage of sounds, made from everything
from gongs to hands clapping, played by 14 musicians. The choreography,
which uses 22 dancers and is at its most impressive when all are
onstage at once, mirrors the turbulent and quirky moods within the
score. Peter Speliopoulos's costumes, a strange concoction of underwear
which includes bandages worn on the arms and legs, transform the
dancers into fetishized dolls and give the whole work a sinister
edge. But however creepy the dancers look, the costumes are effective
in displaying the very show-off, virtuosic choreography.
On a showy level, McGregor's
"PreSentient" scored pretty high as well. The choreography, a complex
arrangement of trios, quartets and duos performed at high speed,
at times resembles audience-wowing circus tricks, especially when
coupled with over-dramatic lighting changes. In spite of the somewhat
superficial movement, there are gripping moments, and the extremely
demanding choreography was superbly executed by the dancers.
McGregor has a very
distinctive android-like performance style which looks watered down
on other bodies, and "PreSentient" had a far softer, more human
quality than much of his previous work, even though it contained
a violent physicality. With the dancers clad in short droopy purple
tunics, the piece took on a far more sentimental look than the cold
but riveting alien world that McGregor usually creates with his
own company, Random Dance. The costumes were positively romantic
compared to those in previous work and some of the slower partner
work almost verged on the sentimental.
Part of the music was
Steve Reich's "Triple Quartet," and McGregor wrote in the program
notes that he was "attracted by the punishing and driven wall of
sound that relentlessly attacks the atmosphere," and tried to match
this in his choreography "through a grammar and syntax of violent
physicality." McGregor is one of the most popular choreographers
around at the moment and has some great ideas, but for me this piece
was just too hyped.
It was de Frutos's Elsa
Canasta, inspired by the moody music of Cole Porter, that stole
the evening. De Frutos brings back everything that we've forgotten
about in dance, like personality, humour, passion and evocation,
and although he is London-based his work is not seen nearly enough
The set design is an
elegant sweeping staircase on which most of the danced action takes
place. "Elsa Canasta" is a series of exits and entrances up and
down the staircase which stands as a metaphor for possibility at
a social gathering. It marks the various stages of an evening of
social interaction, from crisp flirtations at the beginning to wine-drenched
outpourings of lust at the end. An extra layer of sophistication
is added to the performance by the presence of Melanie Marshall,
who sings several Cole Porter numbers in her rich velvety voice,
also on the staircase.
A pair of male lovers
enact their amorous intentions sitting midway up the staircase and
after that, various groupings of dancers explore their own unique
relationships of sulky tiffs, cheeky games, violent struggles. The
lucky partners make it all the way upstairs, beckoned by a quick
suggestive nod of the head by their lovers. The not-so-lucky remain
at the bottom. Each of the characters has his or her own agenda
and own idiosyncratic way of expressing it, such as the man-eating
woman who gropes her partner until he can stand it no more. Or a
neurotic who repeatedly hurls herself off the staircase, testing
the nerves of her partner, and a wild trio who recklessly tumble
from step to step, each competing for attention.
Watching "Elsa Canasta"
is like reading a really juicy gossip column in an upmarket magazine.
De Frutos's vocabulary, a slick combination of gesture, luscious
dance steps and theatrical repetition flavored with huge intensity,
draws us in to what each dancer has to say. He also vividly interprets
the dramatic and nostalgic nature of Porter's sung and orchestral
music, thus making it timeless and appealing to both older and younger
generations of the audience.
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