New English Ballet Theatre’s emotional Remembrance acts as a reminder of different times

United KingdomUnited Kingdom New English Ballet Theatre’s Remembrance: filmed at Peacock Theatre, London, and premiered on YouTube on 15.10.2020. (JO’D)

Alessia Lugoboni (Marie Rambert) & Alexander Nuttall (Ashley Dukes)
(c) Deborah Jaffe

Choreographer – Wayne Eagling
Music – George Frideric Handel, Ode for St Cecilia’s Day
Costume designer – April Dalton
Set designer – Nina Kobiashvil
Lighting designer – Andrew Ellis

Dancers – Alessia Lugoboni (Marie Rambert), Alexander Nuttall (Ashley Dukes) and Dancers of New English Ballet Theatre

‘It’s not a biography of Marie Rambert,’ says choreographer Wayne Eagling in an interview that follows this filmed performance of New English Ballet Theatre’s Remembrance from September 2018. Although one of the dancer’s is given Rambert’s name, and another that of her husband, Ashley Dukes, the ballet is more interested in states of mind than individual lives.

The music to which it is danced, a recording of Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, seems an odd choice at first. It has no obvious reference to the period in which the ballet is set, or to dance. Its cumulative effect, however, is a distillation of the emotions evoked. ‘Marie Rambert’ becomes Everywoman, or at least every woman who experienced longing and uncertainty during the First World War when thinking about a man at the Front.

The choreography is always at the service of the emotion: the bravado of soldiers, one in front of the other in second position plié, before the reality of war is brought home to them on two stretchers; Rambert’s fretful imaginings. In the interview Wayne Eagling refers to the influence of Kenneth MacMillan, with whom he worked as a dancer at The Royal Ballet. But it is also the George Balanchine of Serenade, the Frederick Ashton of Sylvia and The Two Pigeons one thinks of as Marie Rambert dances out her anxiety, sometimes on pointe, with a corps of female ‘mourners’ who become extensions of herself.

‘I start by asking dancers to be part of the creative process,’ Eagling says. ‘I like having everybody involved.’ It is not only Alessia Lugoboni (Marie Rambert) and Alexander Nuttall (Ashley Dukes) who show an investment in the piece. As an ensemble, the dancers of New English Ballet Theatre appear committed to the movement through their bodies and their faces.

They are helped by the designs of set, costume and lighting. Through the use of projected images on a backdrop, the stage of the Peacock Theatre expands to become Waterloo Station, a war-torn village in France and in a more Expressionist way later on a field of giant poppies. Costumes for the women capture the silhouette of the period with great attention to fabric and pattern but without ever becoming literal or cumbersome. The brightness of Serafina Astavieva’s dance studio in Chelsea at the start is replaced by searchlights through darkness, or a church interior bathed in blue.

As well as the interview with the choreographer, the YouTube film includes a brief documentary about Marie Rambert and her legacy (the biographical information that the ballet eschews), and the recital of a poem, ‘The Armoured Inkwell’, about the life of Ashley Dukes by its author, and Rambert’s grandson, Aiden Dunn.

In 2018, the idea of collective ‘suffering and anxiety’ might have seemed further away than it does now. It seems to come from a different time, the sound of applause and cheers from an unmasked, unsocially distanced audience as the dancers lined up for the curtain call at the Peacock Theatre that September evening two years ago.

John O’Dwyer

For more about New English Ballet Theatre click here.

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