In the opening night of its short Autumn season at Sadler's Wells, Rambert Dance Company presented a mixed bill that comprised four attractive works. Introducing a brand new piece by Irish choreographer Marguerite Donlon, the programme also included three revivals from acclaimed choreographers Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham and Richard Alston.
The evening started with the London première of Donlon's rich and complex Labyrinth of Love. In tune with the tradition of collaborative artistic approach that company founder Marie Rambert took from Diaghilev, this new commissioned piece is the thrilling outcome of a close alliance between four artists. The music, composed by Michael Daugherty, is inspired by seven love poems written by women as diverse as Emily Dickinson and Liz Taylor. Soprano Kirsty Hopkins, placed on stage, sang the emotive poetic lines warmly. Donlon has built her choreography upon the wide range of moods suggested by the score. Peppered with occasional bursts of humour, the dance examines different facets of love, such as melancholy, tenderness, desire and despair. An ensemble of fourteen dancers, mainly dancing in couples, performed the emotionally charged sequences with conviction and skill. Their white costumes against the black set designed by Conor Murphy added a touch of elegance and sophistication to the production.
Framing the whole product, visual artist Mat Collishaw contributed lovely images referring to the four classical elements: earth, water, fire and air. With a subtle presence on the stage, this was the most remarkable component of the piece. It created an atmosphere of peaceful beauty and provided a cosmic dimension to the exploration of love. Overall, Labyrinth of Love left an impression of overwhelming depth that demands several viewings to extract all its wealth.
At the heart of the bill, Paul Taylor's Roses (1985) brought classic harmony to the evening. Again a piece for an ensemble of couples, it stresses the sculptural possibilities of the dancing body and proposes a quiet and harmonious vision of romantic relationships. It starts with the dancers in still position, slowly becoming alive to hearing music by Richard Wagner and Heinrich Baermann. As they dance together in circles or absorbedly in duets, they recall young gods having youthful, innocent fun in a garden. Rambert's dancers did not offer a fully committed and technically perfect performance but the result was decidedly enjoyable. Only Lucía Barbaillo and Eryck Brahmania grasped the quiet intensity their roles required.
The third choreography on the programme, Richard Alston's Dutiful Ducks (1982), was a brief and intense solo for a male dancer. Set to the rhythms of natural speech, it explores the musicality of words with fast-paced, energetic steps that mesmerize the audience for their clarity. Dane Hurst performed them with precision and vitality. The piece left a similar impression to the opening piece: subsequent viewings will certainly allow a full enjoyment of its clever choreography.
The programme ended with Merce Cunningham's Sounddance. Created in 1975 to electronic music by David Tudor, the piece proposes a journey in dance through this choreographer's distinctive vocabulary. The empty stage is progressively invaded by dancers that seem to have landed in an alien space. The leading pioneer, a role originally played by Cunningham himself and performed by Miguel Altunaga in this Rambert version, soon starts to investigate the possibilities for movement in the new environment. The rest of the cast join and initiate similar experiments. The amazing tapestry of findings includes body actions and interactions evoking movements made by human beings, cells, animals and machines. Rambert's dancers offered a good performance of the plastic, self-reflective and elusive choreography. The frequent revival of Cunnigham's works by Rambert Dance Company is certainly a wise move, that is allowing the youngest generations to access the vast and significant repertory of one of the most influential figures in 20th-century dance history.
Sadler's WellsRosebery Avenue
London Greater London United Kingdom EC1R 4TN
Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos and Mbulelo Ndabeni © Chris Nash
Rambert Dance Company, Roses © Hugo Glendinning
Dane Hurst © Chris Nash
Estela Merlos and Dane Hurst © Chris Nash