Ballet Rambert in Performances that Puzzle and Disturb

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Turnage, Anderson, Various Composers (arr. Millett): Ballet Rambert, Sadler’s Wells, London, 22.10.13  (JO’D)

Kym Alexander, Miguel Altunaga, Adam Blyde, Kirill Burlov, Antonette Dayrit, Malgorzata Dzierzon, Julia Gillespie, Vanesssa Kang, Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Patricia Okenawa, Adam Park, Pierre Tappon, Hannah Rudd, Jon Savage Stephen Wright

Alistair Scahill (viola), Christopher Tombling (violin), Juliet Snell (violin), Ben Chappell (cello), Joy Hawley (cello), Catherine Elliot (double bass), Anthony Robb (flute), Rebecca Larsen (flute, piccolo), Anthony Robb (flute, piccolo, alto, bass), Joseph Sanders (oboe/cor anglais), Ian Scott (clarinet, bass clarinet), Juliet Bucknall (bass clarinet), Melanie Henry (saxophone alto/soprano), Philip Gordon (bassoon), Kevin Elliott (horn), Jane Hanna (horn), Jonathan Clarke (trumpet), Amos Miller (Trombone), Robert Millett (percussion), Lucy Haslar (harp), Yshani Perinpanayagam (piano/celeste), Mark Bousie (accordion), Dario Rossetti-Bonell (guitar)

Choreography :Ashley Page
Music: Mark-Anthony Turnage, Aphex Twin
Design : Jon Morrell
Lighting design: Peter Mumford

The Comedy of Change
Choreography: Mark Baldwin
Music: Julian Anderson
Production design: Kader Attia
Costume design and chrysalises: Georg Meyer-Wiel
Lighting design: Michael Mannion

The Castaways
Choreography: Barak Marshall
Music arranged by Robert Millett
Design: Jon Bausor
Lighting design: Mark Henderson


Ashley Page’s Subterrain begins with an enigmatic, though somewhat halting, prelude in which two figures are briefly and dimly discovered, on the other side of a scrim, as if in the act of burying something. It is an image that stays in the mind as the curtain goes up a second time and the ten dancers (five men, five women) appear, couple by couple, on the stage. Suspended above them is a structure composed of wooden planks and boards, some of them split, which bears a resemblance to the object that was about to be interred. From the start, the couples move in an atmosphere of oppression. Their gestures, however free, are weighted. A narrative element in the form of brooding rivalry between two of the men for the attention of one of the women runs through the piece, which seems to focus on the tensions in male-female relationships. There are moments when the men and the women perform identical pirouettes and leaps. There are moments when a woman is lifted, or supported in a handstand, or swings from the leg of her partner. The pace is rapid at the start, when dictated by the jazz trumpet of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s score, slower and more sensuous when the strings take over. However rapid or slow the movement, the mystery of the burial scene (and of what exactly the ‘subterranean’ refers to) reverberates.

Differences of gender are less evident in the opening section of Mark Baldwin’s The Comedy of Change. Its dancers emerge from ‘chrysalises’ dressed in unisex bodysuits (white at the front, black at the back) to engage in a ‘pure dance’ discovery of balance and flexibility accompanied by playful woodwind and brass. Narrative is less in evidence, too, though the dancers appear to reject one of their number for his proud display of the jeté en tournant (a reference, perhaps, to Nijinsky, with whom company founder Marie Rambert worked.) The second half of the piece robs the dancers of any personality altogether by clothing them in bodysuits (black for the women, white for the men) that cover their heads and faces completely; the disturbing connotations of this are kept, for the most part, at bay. Playfulness persists as one dancer is wrapped in gold-coloured foil to become a seated (the music suggests eastern) idol in front of which the others perform. The movement on the stage now becomes almost abstract, that of black and white around gold. It builds to a simple, logical and effective climax that made the first-night audience laugh with childlike satisfaction.

Barak Marshall’s The Castaways presents twelve characters ‘trapped in a hell of their own making’, and mixes dance with the spoken word to do so. When not insulting each other, and the audience, in English and in Spanish, these unpleasant people dance as a group to Middle Eastern and Yiddish rhythms, or engage (in one of the most interesting sequences) in a battle scene that is choreographed in slow motion. ‘I’ve had enough!’ one of the dancers calls up, at one point, to whoever she thinks has trapped them in the underground space in which they find themselves. It was a sentiment shared by at least four members of the audience in the Sadler’s Wells first circle, who had already left.


John O’Dwyer