Whitley’s Frames Captures Zeitgeist in Rambert Triple Bill

Whitley’s Frames Captures Zeitgeist in Rambert Triple Bill

United Kingdom, Bjarnason, Bryars, Higgins, Triple Bill: Rambert,  Rambert Orchestra / Paul Hoskins (conductor), Tredegar Town Band / Ian Porthouse (conductor), Sadler’s Wells, London, 12.5.2015 (J.O’D)


Dancers: Miguel Altunaga, Carolyn Bolton, Simone Damberg Würtz, Daniel Davidson, Edit Domoszlai, Liam Francis, Julia Gillespie, Brenda Lee Grech, Dane Hurst, Adam Park, Hannah Rudd, Pierre Tapon

Musicians: Violins: Leader Christopher Tombling, Juliet Snell; Viola: Nic Pendlebury; Cello: Dierdre Cooper; Double Bass: Catherine Elliott; Piano: Yshani Perinpanayagam; Percussion: Robert Millett; Prerecorded music: Viola Nadia Sirota; Organ James McVinnie; Piano Daníel Bjarnason; mixed by Daníel Bjarnason, Valgeir Sigur∂sson

Choreography: Alexander Whitley
Music: Daníel Bjarnason
Design: Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen
Lighting design: Lee Curran


Four Elements

Dancers: Luke Ahmet, Lucy Balfour, Simone Damberg Würtz, Dane Hurst, Vanessa Kang, Adam Park, Hannah Rudd, Stephen Wright

Musicians: Double Bass: Catherine Eliot; Bass Clarinet: Ian Scott; Alto Saxophone: Kyle Horch; Horn: Kevin Eliott; Flügel Horn: Niall Keatley; Trombone: Richard Ward; Percussion: Christopher Blundell, Robert Millet; Piano: Yshani Perinpanayagam; Keyboard: Kate Whitley

Choreography:Lucinda Childs
Music: Gavin Bryars
Lighting design: Howell Binkley
Design: Jennifer Bartlett


Dark Arteries

Dancers: Luke Ahmet, Miguel Altunaga, Lucy Balfour, Joshua Barwick, Carolyn Bolton, Simone Damberg Würtz, Daniel Davidson, Edit Domoszlai, Liam Francis, Julia Gillespie, Brenda Lee Grech, Antonia Hewitt, Vanessa Kang, Mark Kimmett, Patricia Okenwa, Adam Park, Stephen Quildan, Hannah Rudd, Kym Sojourna, Pierre Tappon

Musicians: Tredegar Town Band [Cornets: Rhys Barrett, Martin Britt, Brendan Caddy, Meirion Davies, Dewi Griffiths, Travis Griffiths, Ben Halstead, Chris Musgrave, Matt Shaw, David Thomas, Nick Walkley, Lewis West; Flügel Horns: Niall Keatley, Danny Winder; Horns: Hannah Drage, Lee Drew, Hannah Emma Havard, Eve Rogers; Euphoniums: Sion Jones, Matthew White; Baritones: Jonathan Bound, Jack Lapthorn; Trombones: Lloyd Pearce, Mike Piley, Ryan Richards, Iwan Williams, Mark Winstone; Tubas: Steffan Jones, Jake Pritchard, Lewis Rees, Andy Russell; Percussion: Steve Barnett, Christopher Blundell, Heledd Gwyant, Tim Lewis, Giordan Price, Gavin Pritchard, Robert Millett]

Choreography: Mark Baldwin
Music: Gavin Higgins
Set design: Michael Howells
Lighting design: Michael Mannion


With its dancers in white, tailored shirts and fawn-coloured trousers moving about inside a grey cube as they assemble and reassemble lengths of silver metal to a scratchy, clanging score, Alexander Whitley’s Frames was the first and most enthusiastically received work of this Rambert triple bill. Whitley is a choreographer who tends, I think, to put more ideas into his work than it can sustain, but Frames captures the zeitgeist in a way that the other premiere, Mark Baldwin’s more traditionally danced and costumed Dark Arteries, does not, and that Lucinda Childs’s balletic memento mori from 1990, Four Elements, cannot.

It comes as no surprise to find that Whitley refers, in the programme notes, to William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced (begun in 2000). This starts with the dancers dragging metal tables on to the stage. The dancers of Frames throw their lengths of metal to the floor from shoulder height. Like the Cullberg Ballet, too, in Jefta van Dinther’s Plateau Effect (at Sadler’s Wells last November), they are dancers with a job to do. The task element here, though, is diluted. In between the frame assembly the Rambert dancers, being Rambert dancers, have time and space for movement that is more recognizably dance-like. They dance with the frames; they make the frames dance. There are also signs of Alexander Whitley’s thoughtful, floor-based, interrogation with the body. The end, which has one dancer, at least, standing with only one heel to the floor (if it isn’t that he was caught out in this position), is a question mark in itself.

Rambert gave a ‘revival premiere’ of Four Elements at Sadler’s Wells last year. Seeing it a second time is a chance to appreciate its details: the haunting urgency of Gavin Bryars music, which catches the bodysuited dancers up in an implacable march of time from one side of the stage to the other; the skeletons and playing cards in Jennifer Bartlett’s four backdrop paintings and on the bodysuits; the distinctly impersonal nature of its footwork and its arabesques en l’air.

‘Brilliantly bonkers’ is how Rambert’s Artistic Director, Mark Baldwin, describes composer Gavin Higgins’s idea of putting thirty-two members of the Tredegar Town Band on the stage with the full company of dancers. It is an idea that earns the piece spontaneous applause when the curtain goes up and the audience realises that against a background of inky black, the black-clothed musicians of a brass band are arranged in tiers.

Impressive, too, is the entrance of eleven women dancers in a line, one after the other, like contemporary dance versions of the Shades in La Bayadère, Shades who perform not the arabesque/cambré but pliés and bends. Among the overlapping sections of movement that follow there is one, particularly arresting moment when a woman walks across the stage in silence. In a series of duets, towards the end, the dancers, in bodysuits of soft red and blue, seem to fold their bodies into each other, or make them interlock in unexpected ways.

Dark Arteries is a solid, moving piece of choreography, solidly and movingly performed, but in a triple-bill with Alexander Whitley’s Frames it seems even old-fashioned. There were few cheers and whoops when it finished. Perhaps dance on its own, in unitards and bodysuits, is no longer enough. Perhaps there needs to be a task, involving things made of metal, as well.

John O’Dwyer

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