Rambert’s Triptych Takes Exploration as its Theme

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Turnage, Stravinsky, Bach, Frances-Hoad, Prokofiev, Triptych:  Rambert, Rambert Orchestra conducted by Paul Hoskins), Sadler’s Wells, London, 19.11.2014 (J.O’D)


Dancers:Simone Damburg Würtz, Daniel Davidson, Liam Francis, Dane Hurst, Vanessa King, Patricia Okenwa, Adam Park, Hannah Rudd, Kym Sojourna, Stephen Wright
Choreography: Ashley Page
Music: Mark-Anthony Turnage, Aphex Twin
Design: Jon Morell
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford


The Strange Charm of Mother Nature

Dancers: Luke Ahmet, Adam Blyde, Lucy Balfour, Carolyn Bolton, Simone Damburg Würtz, Edit Domoszlai, Dane Hurst, Vanessa Kang, Brenda Lee Grech, Adam Park, Hannah Rudd, Kym Sojourna, Pierre Tappon
Choreography: Mark Baldwin
Music: Igor Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks, J. S. Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Cheryl Frances-Hoad Quark Dances
Design concept: Mark Baldwin and Katie Paterson
Costume Design: Stevie Stewart
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson


Terra Incognita

Dancers: Luke Ahmet, Adam Blyde, Lucy Balfour, Carolyn Bolton, Simone Damburg Würtz, Dane Hurst, Vanessa Kang, Adam Park, Hannah Rudd, Pierre Tappon
Choreography: Shobana Jeyasingh
Music: Gabriel Prokofiev
Design: Jean-Marc Puissant
Lighting Design: Lucy Carter


‘What connects the new pieces in our triptych of dance works,’ writes Rambert ‘s Artistic Director Mark Baldwin in his introduction to the programme, ‘is the theme of exploration.’ In Baldwin’s own The Strange Charm of Mother Nature, that exploration would be scientific; in Shobana Jeyasingh’s Terra Incognita geographical, or (if one thinks of Whitman’s ‘Passage to more than India!’) emotional. Both these works, and Ashley Page’s Subterrain (premiered by Rambert at Sadler’s Wells last year), also explore different kinds of movement. In that sense it is Terra Incognita, Jeyasingh’s first work for the company, that makes you feel most like Keats’s ‘stout Cortez’. In relation to movement by the Rambert dancers, it is the work which conveys the greatest sense of discovery.

In Subterrain (with music by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Aphex Twin), five pairs of dancers use arms, hands, legs and feet to support each other’s weight in different ways. The heaviness of their bodies complements the atmosphere of the piece, which is no less brooding and enigmatic than it was a year ago. Under a looming structure of girders and planks (partly smashed) the dancers play out, in almost-but-not-quite everyday clothes, their uneasy relationships of physical risk and trust. Simone Damburg Würtz emerges as a central figure, cool and blonde, for whose attention at least two of the male dancers vie. It is her full-length horizontal balance, with hands clasped to those of the supine Adam Park, that seems to form the climax of the piece.

The Strange Charm of Mother Nature is altogether brighter and more colourful. Here the dancers run on and off in ones and twos. They use the extent of the stage for seemingly weightless movement that owes much to the classical ballet training many of them have had. The piece was inspired by a visit Mark Baldwin and artist Katie Paterson made to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. In sleeveless bodysuits of red, black, yellow or blue (sprinkled in places with Swarovski crystals) the dancers are more like particles, perhaps, than people. The music by Stravinksy that starts the piece (Dumbarton Oaks) brings Balanchine to mind. So does the movement: the sense that it and the music are expressive of each other, that each gives the other importance. When Stravinsky is followed by Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 3) the dancers engage in an exhilarating race with the music. By the time it gets to the third of its compositions (Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Quark Dances) the piece may be running out of steam. And it does not seem to find the rightful ending of the choreographer’s earlier (and also science-inspired) The Comedy of Change.

In the Baldwin piece, the dancers often hold their arms vertically, slightly away from their bodies and gently curved (so, Cunningham is there perhaps as well as Balanchine). In Terra Incognita, Shobana Jeyasingh presents them with one or both elbows sharply extended on a level with the sternum. To see Rambert dancers in this position feels like a venture into unexplored territory already. ‘I never had that as a motive,’ Jeyasingh is quoted as saying in the programme, ‘to blend Indian and contemporary dance.’ Whatever intentions she had in the late 1980s, Jeyasingh has created in this piece a movement style that is powerful and exciting.

Wearing skirts, or kilts (ochre for the women, maroon for the men), and sleeveless ‘tops’ of silky grey, the dancers move across the stage, facing the audience, in deep pliés. Electroacoustic music by Gabriel Prokofiev, with the percussive sounds of ‘kathak’ dance, accompanies them. The men stretch out one, Greek warrior-like or exploratory, arm. If the women seem more passive, at first, there is very soon a breaking down of gender roles. It is Hannah Rudd who crawls offstage across the arms of four standing men. It is Simone Damburg Würtz (as subject, perhaps, rather than object) who supports Pierre Tappon at the waist as he performs a backward arch, again from a plié position. (I don’t remember having seen a male Rambert dancer perform a backbend so deep.) On more than one occasion a male and female dancer work together to lift another dancer, male or female.

Jean-Marc Puissant’s smoke-filled set divides the stage, horizontally, with semi-transparent screens that come and go. Lucy Carter’s lighting turns a backdrop swirl of cloud from grey to red. If the ending is subdued, the dancers transmit a sense of their own excitement as they move across a choreographic ‘new-found-land’ to get there.

John O’Dwyer

Leave a Comment