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Flash Review, 11-30: In Search of a Bellwether
Rambert Revisits Clark, Returns to Bruce, and Bids Farewell to Bonachela

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2005 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- Rambert Dance Company, whose dancers are skillful at tackling the work of a wide range of choreographers, looked as confident as ever November 16 at Sadler's Wells, performing eclectic work by Rafael Bonachela, Christopher Bruce and Michael Clark, a performance in which it was joined by its associate orchestra London Musici.

"Curious Conscience," by Rambert's associate choreographer Rafael Bonachela, is a premiere set to Benjamin Britten's "Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings." Choreographically it is intense and dark like much of Bonachela's choreography and involves some mind-blowing complex partnering, where anatomically challenging lifts and balances seem to knot the dancers around each other. The piece looks slick like a Calvin Klein advert, as the dancers appear and slowly walk downstage in a line dressed in black slips which are fashionably ragged at the edges and set off against a backdrop of illuminated black columns. They look like zombies or sleep-walkers as they gradually assemble and later again when they exit, but not when they are dancing. The choreography requires a high level of alertness as it is precise but emotional, mathematically structured but highly lyrical and follows the theme of the music score, which is set to six poems by poets who explore the subject matter of night, sleep and dreams. Highlights from the score include the plaintive singing of a tenor and an equally haunting solo by the horn. A woman who appears in white and performs a solo which develops like an etching against the dark backdrop marks a striking ending to "Curious Conscience," which is altogether a sophisticated work. It is also a fitting piece to mark the departure of Bonachela from Rambert after some 13 years to start his own company.

From the brand new to the retro is Michael Clark's "Swamp," a version of an original work choreographed for Rambert in 1986. At the time it marked Clark's return to the company which he had joined after graduating from the Royal Ballet School. For eight dancers wearing brown and metallic green Glam Rock costumes by Post-Punk designer Bodymap, the piece heralds the dawn of Michael Clark's notorious choreographic years. "Swamp" also embodies the fresh energy of Clark, as well as his unbridled excitement for Cunningham technique, which had just begun to be taught at Rambert during this time and which he combined with his solid training in Cecchetti technique. Everything that Clark became famous for in later years is present in "Swamp," albeit mildly: using excessively loud Punk Rock music and shockingly perverse Punk costumes, mixing virtuosic Cunninghamesque technique with a distorted version of ballet. The dancers look strong and linear as they perform a series of Cunningham balances, plies and bends, mixed with fast foot work and travelling steps. Clark's choreography focuses largely on duets and loosely explores the theme of changing relationships in which dancers pull away from each other or hold on tight. Skin-tight body suits, flared at the bottom, help emphasize the active limbs darting out or being thrown impressively high from perfectly centered torsos, as well as the sexually suggestive jutting out of the pelvic region. Lines broken by the provocative intrusion of the pelvis or buttocks are a trademark of Clark, much of whose choreography seems to deal with the exploration of his own sexuality.

"A Steel Garden," by Rambert's former artistic director, Christopher Bruce, is disappointing in light of the other pieces; while the dancers perform competently the choreography looks dated and jaded. The whole piece is centered around several banks of chimes set up on stage and having the dancers hit them as they move. While the noise of the chimes is atmospherically resonant at the beginning in the silent theater, the impact of their sound is undermined by the bland '70s-style 'supermarket' music by David C. Heath. The dancers, wearing silk trousers and unitards designed to look like tattooed skin, resemble members of some ritualistic tribe. When they are not hammering the chimes they perform conventional partner work, steps with soft flowing dynamics, and the whole effect is just too much of a cliched New Age 'awakening' for me.

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