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Review 2, 5-28: After a Fashion
From Rambert, Essays on Ashton
By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask
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LONDON -- The highlight
of Wednesday's performance by Rambert Dance Company at Sadler's
Wells was a recreation of "A Tragedy of Fashion." Originally choreographed
by the quintessentially English choreographer Frederick Ashton in
1926 for Marie Rambert's ballet company, then called Ballet Club,
the work is a stylish comedy about the tragic events within a fashion
house or salon. (Click here to see a photograph of Rambert and Ashton
in the work.)The reworking by choreographer Ian Spink is a close
collaboration with designers Antony McDonald, long-time collaborator
of Spink, and Juliette Blondelle. It captures the spirit of the
1920s with frivolous costumes and eccentric stage sets consisting
of a huge jacket in the process of being tailored and a gigantic
pair of scissors. While the costumes worn by most of the characters
within the ballet are spectacularly lavish 1920s haute couture,
those worn by the 'models' could be from the contemporary cat walk,
as they are unashamedly brash and ridiculous.
is ballet-based contemporary and while this 'modern' version includes
new designs, and music by Elena Kats-Chernin, it sticks as closely
as possible to the spirit of the original. The characters are all
highly theatrical and camp, but the really intriguing ones are Duchic
the couturier and his two female business partners, named the Orchidees.
These androgynous women, who puff on cigarette holders throughout
the piece, are meant to be strong, ambitious and 'sexually ambiguous'
characters typical of the type of women who aspired to careers in
the male dominated fashion industry of the '20s. (Nothing's changed
today.) The rest of the cast -- muses, models, friends and hangers
on, a stiff old patron and his glamorous but formidable wife --
convey the decadence and superficiality of a fashion designer's
salon with their love affairs, petty quarrels, bitchiness and rivalries.
While the dancers put
as much into the performance as they can and while the combination
of ballet, tango and theatrical gestures clearly illustrates the
colorful characters that Ashton had envisaged, I feel disappointed
that the piece doesn't have more of a 'contemporary' pitch or employ
more imaginative movement. At one moment, a male model appears with
a huge pink sash attached to his bottom, dancing on pointe. It's
amusing for the first few minutes, but seems quite gimmicky, a rather
cheap thrill. But maybe that's the whole point of the work. It's
fun, stylish and that's about all.
Another tribute to Ashton
is "Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan," a solo
originally choreographed for Lynn Seymour by Ashton in 1976. This
piece was inspired by Duncan's free flowing Greek inspired draperies,
bare feet and dancing on an empty stage in response to classical
music. It's a real piece of dance history, even when you see it
performed on a young Rambert dancer (Amy Hollingsworth) with her
(different) angular and highly technically trained body. The movement
and the expression with which it is performed evoke the early Mothers
of modern dance, Ruth St. Denis, Loie Fuller and of course Duncan
herself, characterized by simple skips, jumps and running, shallow
back bends and low leg balances and the use of props such as billowing
silk scarves and rose petals, so far from the athleticism and rigor
of today's contemporary dance, but so refreshingly simple and emotive.
Every action is inspired by the mood of Brahms's music and so each
dance contains child-like emotions which are variations on sadness
and happiness. In the program notes, Ashton remembers Duncan as
possessing "a quality I can only describe by saying that when she
moved she left herself behind." That is exactly what this solo demonstrates.
Finally, as a complete
contrast I want to mention the short work which opened this Ashton-inspired
programme, "Linear Remains," by Rambert dancer and associate choreographer
Rafael Bonachela. The piece consisted of highly articulated movement
mainly presented through a series of knotty, complex lifts with
phenomenally striking lighting. The dancers really excelled in this
work, which showed off their sharp, virtuosic ability, and their
bodies seemed to develop/expand into symbiotic sculptures framed
by the intense lighting. The work seemed to capture the youth and
energy of its choreographer, who originally made the piece as a
private exploration of his own individual style with no intentions
of it being performed on stage.
(Editor's Note: "Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora
Duncan" will be performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet this July
at the Lincoln Center Festival.)
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