Rambert’s adventurous programme shows a commitment to new work and artistic collaboration that gloriously affirms the company’s long heritage and roots in the post-Diaghilev dance diaspora.  The evening opened with Kim Brandstrup’s Transfigured Night, followed by Didy Veldman’s The 3 Dancers, and concluded with a revival of Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances. Live musical accompaniment was intrinsic to the immediacy and vigour throughout.

Brandstrup’s study of painful choices as a couple’s relationship teeters on the brink of failure courageously uses the music (Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht) that Antony Tudor chose for his ballet Pillar of Fire, but his conception is original and completely different from Tudor’s. Brandstrup echoes the poem by Richard Dehmel that inspired Schoenberg, in which a couple walks in a dark wood and the woman reveals a secret, offering three possible resolutions: first despair, then a fantasy of hope, and finally acceptance. This is not a narrative, but it tells a story, while a towering wooden column casts a shadow on the stage that suggests the passage of time. The woman (Simone Damberg Würtz) desperately and repeatedly leans on the man (Adam Park), who violently turns away as she clings to him. She embodies the terror of rejection. The continual lack of resolution in the music is reflected in long strands of continuous movement as weight shifts from one dancer to another, or she runs and takes a desperate flying leap into a high lift or encircling embrace. The ‘chorus’ of dancers clothed in sombre colours ominously amplify the soloists’ emotions. They seem to be both Dehmel’s dark wood and the woman’s inner psyche, as they seethe around her or raise her up, carrying her on tide of movement. The second episode begins with a looking-glass motif: Damberg Würtz, her flame-coloured dress hinting that she is in some way a ‘fallen woman’ is mirrored by Lucy Balfour in white. Balfour enacts a dream of forgiveness with Pierre Tappon, who elegantly curls in and out of graceful handstands, moving easily between the vertical and the floor. The final episode shows the lovers’ uncertain reconciliation.

Veldman’s The 3 Dancers, to an original score by Elena Kats-Chernin, draws on Picasso’s surreal representation of a disastrous love triangle, and applies Cubism to choreography, disassembling and reassembling her subjects to reveal the tension between the outer and the inner self. In the dramatic opening tableau two trios of entwined dancers, clothed in white and black respectively, seem woven together. Veldman’s striking use of développés and huge ronds de jambe twists and turns bodies in every direction, against a large white square on the ground downstage right, that contrasts with a dark square on the backdrop upstage left. The disciplined geometrical design contrasts sharply with the dancers’ struggle for ascendancy as they compete for control, or pull on invisible puppet strings. Three jagged triangular reflecting shards descend from the flies, punctuating each stage of the conflict. This is an outstanding work.

The evening closed with Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances, created specifically in response to the terrible events in Chile under Augusto Pinochet. When I saw it at Sadler’s Wells in 1982, it was a sharp reminder of that continent’s suffering, at a time when South America was often represented by cute lines of bright little figures on Peruvian knitted hats and jumpers. At first, the eerie silence of three masked ghosts dominates the stage. They leap like huge cats, or slither like snakes on the ground, their body paint smearing the stage with death. Suddenly they freeze, hearing their prey approach, and hide like vampires among the living, who dance to guitars and pan pipes. The choreography uses triple runs and pivot steps to Latin American rhythms as dancers move sideways like stylized friezes, or whirl with outstretched arms like highly coloured exotic birds. There is fun in the competitive humour of the necktie duet (brilliantly danced by Miguel Altunaga and Carolyn Bolton), but each dance ends in death. Chile has changed, but this is a work with universal meaning while human rights are still denied and ordinary people continue to die at the hands of oppressive regimes.

Maggie Watson

19 March 2017