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Here's really looking at you: Rambert Event Rambert Building, London SE1 Of Saints and Go-Go Boys Toynbee Studios, London E1: Watching Rambert's dancers up close from just a few feet away proves a revelation

July 20, 2014

Luke Jennings



Dance performance that occurs outside the conventional theatre space invariably brings new perspectives to bear. Work that can seem detached when framed by the proscenium arch and contained by the wings can spring into vivid life in 3D close-up. This was certainly the case with the Rambert Event, a performance of excerpts from works choreographed by the late Merce Cunningham that Rambert Dance Company has presented over the past three decades.

The event took place in two large studios in Rambert's new building on London'sSouth Bank. The score was by Philip Selway, the sets based on artworks by Gerhard Richter. As the dances unrolled, spectators were free to move around the perimeter of each studio, and to select and change their viewing point. This was enthralling, in part because the works are so spare and fine, and the dancers so charged with grace and intent, but also because there's a real sense of the performance's character being defined by everyone present. If you weren't there, things would in some small way be different.

It makes a difference to look into a performer's eyes from just a few feet away. To watch Pierre Tappon's cool gaze as he calculates the vectors of his next high-speed diagonal, the near-furious focus of Kym Sojourna as she commits to a balance, the flare of Dane Hurst's nostrils as he snatches a breath mid-leap, the muscular shiver of Lucy Balfour's back as she locks into arabesque (staged by Jeannie Steele, this is a very neo-balletic reading of Cunningham, with lots of wristy port de bras

These close-up details tell us so much more about the dancers and the dance than we would ever discern from theatre seats, and I wish we saw more contemporary work presented like this. So often the stage and the auditorium promise a formal theatricality and a tension that contemporary dance neither delivers nor sets out to deliver. This seems to be particularly true of Cunningham-based work. The most vivid evening of Richard Alston's work that I can remember was performed in the round (or to be scrupulously accurate, in the square) at the Place in 2010. Michael Clark's 2011 Turbine Hall evening was more engaging by far than any of his recent Barbican presentations.

I've written about Rambert's identity crisis before, and the brightness and immediacy of the Event suggests a possible way forward. In an era of fast-moving auteur ensembles such as New Movement Collective and the Mark Bruce Company, capable of forming and dissolving from project to project, a standing repertory company employing more than 20 dancers on a year-round basis is inevitably going to find itself on the back foot. Rambert is committed to performing new work, but when English National Ballet is dancing Akram Khan and the Royal Ballet's resident choreographer is Wayne McGregor, how is it to carve out a distinctive niche for itself?

Here's a thought. Rambert's splendid new pounds 19.6m building stands on the South Bank, confidently squaring up to the National Theatre. Why shouldn't Rambert, with its unparalleled experience and knowledge of the sector, become a producing house like the National? An institution commissioning multi-scale work, and one to which choreographers and directors with innovative ideas could apply, and see their projects realised. Some productions could be staged in-house, others at appropriate-scale venues, and instead of maintaining a standing company of dancers, Rambert could hire performers per project, thus spreading the love and the cash and offering audiences a continually developing story. Like I said, just a thought.

Joseph Mercier's Of Saints and Go-Go Boys is a performance piece based on Our Lady of the Flowers, Jean Genet's journey through the queer criminal underworld of 1940s Paris. Mercier's work is rich in physical imagery - blood, photo-erotica, fairy lights, religious iconography - but for all its commitment to transgression, this tale of drag queen Divine (Jordan Lennie), her pimp Darling (Mercier) and a youthful murderer (Zachariah Fletcher), is more fetishistic soap opera than existential tragedy. Mercier's work has always walked a fine line between the theatrical and the merely voyeuristic, and ultimately, this piece adds up to less than the sum of its fearlessly displayed parts.

Captions:

'It makes a difference to look into a performer's eyes': Pierre Tappon and Antonette Dayrit in Rambert's Event.

Tony Nandi


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Source: Observer (UK)


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