Words by Sophie Catherine Chinner
It was an excellent turnout for Rambert Dance Company’s 2019/2020 national tour at the Theatre Royal, Bath. The production revisits internationally renowned pieces from two of the UK’s most celebrated choreographers, Wayne McGregor and Hofesh Shechter, alongside a thrilling, new creation by Marion Motin, Rambert truly gave us the exciting, new and different evening they were hoping for.
Opening the evening with ‘PreSentient’, I need not to look at the programme to check the running order as McGregor’s utterly distinctive style made it clear to me whose work was being presented. Seventeen years ago, this work was commissioned by Rambert, and as the oldest work in the bill on the night of the 24th October, it was easy to prejudge that it would be rather dated in its themes and design. This was not the case.
The curtain raised to unveil the lean, Kym Sojourna. Downstage, she performs a slinky solo latticed with feline movements, indulgent and fluid, it is mesmerising. Another white curtain lifts behind her to reveal eleven more equally slick and polished dancers. Uniform in their minimal, skin-tight mauve dresses, tanks and shorts (very typical of McGregor) designed by Ursula Bombshell, they engage in the choreographer’s signature angular imagery and rapid, chaotic phrasing to the cutting music of Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet. The group, dramatic and dynamic, are united by their shared sense of urgency. Though their lyricism and discipline in balletic technique is unquestionable, their ability to obscure classical lines and distort traditional movements was flawless.
McGregor captures a relentless atmosphere, packing the dancers tightly into dense and complex spaces. Playing with the spacing between the dancers at a fast pace was a crucial way to increase the feeling of apprehension in the piece. His claustrophobic structures allows duets to intertwine with trios, to then merge with other couples and form larger groups. All this happened simultaneously and effortlessly; definitely wild, definitely frantic, I was keen to see what the dancers would bring next.
With the rising popularity of the dance genre contemporary fusion, there is a demand for such a work like ‘Rouge’ by Marion Motin to put this style on the stage. In Bake Off terms, it is a showstopper and, by far, one of the most exciting works I have seen all year. Ferocious, feisty and evocative, the French choreographer débuts her explosive piece with a contemporary dance company.
As if a giant freezer has been opened up on stage, the audience are engrossed in this icy world. Bundles of dry ice pools around the dancers that lie beneath the ocean like mist. The substance seemingly leaks from their bodies, even from the live electric guitarist on stage, with whom I was delighted to see the dancers interact with later in the piece. The collective emits an electric, experimental energy. They rise and fall like waves, the artists (now excluding the musician) stand and topple over in unison and in solitary. With elements that hint to the repetitive sequences of Pina Bausch’s work, Motin references themes of autonomy and connection.
Cool, fresh and urban, ‘Rouge’ seizes elements of 21st Century pop culture in the best way possible. Most famous for her work with Christine and the Queens and Dua Lipa‘ s IDGAF, ‘Rouge’ is equally inundated with a similar modern style and music video vibes that influence her choreography. Colourful and bold, the dancers are embellished with elaborate costumes designed by Yann Seabra; one in a Macklemore-esque fur coat, one in clothing hinting towards drag, bright blue suits and a pink feather bower, it was like playing dressing up in a thrift shop. But, what started of slow and quite laggard in pace, rapidly speeds up when the mood of the work intensifies. Highly sexual and provocative, the artists’ movements transform to be like creatures, stripping themselves of the heavy costumes right before our eyes. It raises an interesting question; do we hide our true selves beneath thick layers?
There was a real sense of journey in ‘Rouge’, and the pair of strip lights on stage helps to assert this. The flashing beams of light increase their speed, until it felt like the dancers were travelling on a motorway. The bright white light then changed to ‘rouge’. The French title slowly began to make more sense. Urgent and dangerous, there was a distinctive influence of hip-hop in Motin’s movement language, but I also noticed a facet of Vogue Fem. Deriving from the French word femme, meaning “woman”, the feminine sexiness that flows through the piece is juxtaposed with sequences of gruelling and demanding punchiness, alongside pounding rhythms. It is exhausting to watch the seven dancers flinging themselves into this evocation of a mosh pit.
Premièring at Sadler’s Wells 2007, choosing to revive Hofesh Shechter’s ‘In your rooms’ for 2019 is a riveting decision. Riddled with the political and the personal, re-staging this work now during a period of Brexit uncertainty, is particularly interesting. Shechter’s dark vision works in the unknown; you are never quite sure what he is going to throw at the audience, which can induce a level of discomfort and tension.
As the longest and the last bill of the night, it is key to keep surprising your audience. His choppy transitions between ‘scenes’, where one dance phrase fades into blackout and only seconds later a new set of dancers reappear doing something entirely in contrast, are impressive. It has a ghostly affect. The use of a projector to highlight the work’s title as well as a placard presented by one dancer quoting ‘Do not follow leaders’ and on its reverse ‘Follow me’, are other features to reinforce political roots and perhaps the irony of leadership methods used by political leaders in the 21st century.
Notably, the repetitive, recurring sounds become familiar and ominous. The industrial soundtrack, blended with a freaky pre-recorded voice, jumps, skips and rewinds, created a rather sinister and eerie atmosphere. Shechter’s work is unapologetically confronting and direct, even slightly exposing for the audience when the house lights are brought up. It could certainly be on a par with Berkoff-ien ‘In Yer Face’ theatre, literally bringing the audience into the story.
The night was a total experience, well put together and really showed off Rambert’s ability to be versatile and articulate with different movement languages. ‘They create(d) magic’, and as a dancer myself, I felt inspired and eager to join in.
Image: Johan Persson. See Sophie’s website for other reviews.