Rambert / McGregor / Motin / Shechter – review

Words by Izzy Rogers.

At 2.30pm on a Thursday, thick blue-grey smoke billows into the seating at Sadler’s Wells. The auditorium is reverberating with bass notes. This is the coolest contemporary dance has ever been. The woman responsible is Marion Motin, ex-Madonna dancer and pop video choreographer (for Dua Lipa; Christine and the Queens), and maker of this assured debut for Rambert.

In Rouge, the middle segment of this mixed bill, we join the dancers-come-rock stars on an otherworldly Sunday morning.  They lie in a hazy, hungover state, dressed flamboyantly, yet gender-neutrally, in feather boas, fishnets, oversized jackets and turbans. Straight-bodied they rise up and then fall back down. Garbs are thrown in the air, liberating these young people into trackies or t-shirts and pants. They shrug, shoulder-toss and saunter with enviable nonchalance. An excess of static brings voguing into 2019: Instagram-worthy poses held a touch too long.

The live electric guitarist (Ruben Martinez) is a godlike presence in this glamorous heaven. The performers are enveloped in a bed of plush silver clouds. The music is irresistible — uptempo but mysterious. Strobe lighting is a delicious cheat because it makes any movement look good. This commission from new Artistic Director Benoit Swan Pouffer attains commerciality with unexpected magic.

In Your Rooms is similarly beguiling. In 2008, The Observer called it ‘the most important new dance-work to be created in Britain since the millennium’; each blackout leaves me open-mouthed, eager for the next flash tableau, moving or still. Hofesh Shechter’s echoing voiceover starts, inviting us to consider the cosmos. He teases us with repeated sections, suggested attempts at ‘doing better’ — but they are actually identical.

Presented in filmic fragments, framed by Lee Curran’s outstanding prismed lighting design, Shechter crafts a vision on nine dancers that feels complete and autonomous: an alternative universe. A bright percussive score is made by musicians raised above the action, layering drums on poignant strings. Tribal, round-shouldered movement is forceful yet expressive. Radiating from the hips, arms open out like umbrellas, urgent and direct. A pair embrace with startling passion. We don’t know why, but we don’t need to.

A visual through-line links the final and second works. Slender horizontal stripes run across the space: fluorescent red lights in Rouge, and a trail of sand in In Your Rooms, meticulously poured out then swept up by a solo male performer on hands and knees. Spellbinding.

I question the rationale to present McGregor’s Presentient, revived from 2002, as the first piece in the programme. It feels uptight and limiting set to Steve Reich’s relentless violins. It plays by old fashioned rules compared to the daring we see later. It needs a remix — a new charge between the dancers would warrant its inclusion. The plotless dynamic feels lackluster when, later on, identity and society are on the agenda.

Ursula Bombshell’s mauve costumes are cowl-necked stretchy one-pieces matching Lucy Carter’s lighting in a jaded shade of purple. McGregor’s trademark style is in evidence: athletic and difficult, with the usual complex lifts and legs splayed. Simone Damburg Wurtz and Kim Sojourna shine anyway, combining feminine muscularity with languidness. The work resembles a jigsaw puzzle that slots together in multiple ways; a Rubik’s cube endlessly messed up and reconfigured to create landscaped symmetry.

The Shechter stays with me. Its disparate philosophical musings take me somewhere new. A symbiosis of political statement and instinctive truth. Pouffer has rich choreographic pickings here, both new and old, and spectacular dancers who interrogate if these makers really cut the mustard.

Image: Johan Persson