Rambert’s season of new choreography

Posted: June 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Rambert Dance Company: Season of new choreography

Queen Elizabeth Hall, May 31

Dance is close to music in that what we see on stage can move us emotionally, but an intellectual gap can exist between what we see and what we understand of what we see. Without bridging this gap, the scope for further discussion and debate about dance is diminished. One has only to think of the talks and explanations about classical music on Radio 3 to appreciate the value of such insights. Rambert Dance Company is evidently aware of this, and for their Season of New Choreography at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, provide helpful program notes and a brief Q&A session with both the choreographers and composers immediately following the performance, mediated by Rambert’s head of learning and participation, Joce Giles. It is clear, for example, that the creative process began with the movement and the music followed, often by long-distance communication. In the music for Face Up composer Semay Wu has incorporated a familiarity with choreographer Mbulelo Ndabeni’s culture that makes the score  as much reflective as descriptive. Ndabeni’s explanation of the use of clicks in his language and the meaning of passages in his native tongue that were incorporated into Wu’s composition was not only instructive in itself but an invaluable entrance into the world of the choreographer and his work.

Dane Hurst: The Window

 Choreographer Dane Hurst writes in the program notes, “The most devastating phenomenon to affect the residents of old South End  (a neighbourhood of South Africa’s Port Elizabeth, where Hurst was born) was undoubtedly the Group Areas Act. The Act was part of a clutch of apartheid laws passed after the National Party came to power in 1948; it was intended to give effect to the Population Registration Act of 1950 which labeled and classified all South Africans as part of a defined population group. Soon after, eviction notices were handed out followed by protests and unrest; but inevitably thousands of families were displaced and homes demolished.”

A tall lamp with a reddish glow is the only visible furniture. A woman (Angela Towler) lies restless on her back at its base, her hand on her stomach. The evocative score by Christopher Mayo describes Towler’s contrasted state with a passage for solo violin and harp combined with an ominous drum. Three girls appear, one after the other, similarly dressed. In this particular household, we imagine them to be three sisters and Towler their mother. The score increases its instrumentation as the family discusses the ramifications of the Group Areas Act. All the girls seem to be talking at the same time, but not listening to each other until Towler focuses their attention. They share a frightened gesture of hand across the face, legs raised forward, unsure of what will happen. Another woman appears, in a light grey dress, moving calmly, unaffected by the commotion. Her hands are open, raised to her face. Raucous trumpets herald the arrival of three men in suits with what we assume to be an eviction notice, flaunting their power in large, expansive movements, swinging legs wide in predatory jumps. The three sisters remain in the shadows but the men grab them by their necks and are about to rape them when a girl in white (Estella Merlos) flies into the room, disrupting the proceedings but focusing all the brutal attention on herself. She is possibly a local activist, and she is interrogated, turned upside down, and threatened with the eviction notice. She treats it with contempt, incensing the men to continue their assault. Shown the notice again, she screws it up and puts it in her mouth, for which she is beaten and left on the floor. The men leave. The scene changes to an overt choreographic quote from Kurt Joos’ Green Table: the family is standing around a table drumming their arms on the surface to a war-like rhythmic pulse in the music. Towler presides as they pass around the eviction note, snatching it from each other. The eight dancers – the family enlarged by a number of neighbours – are angry; the men want to resist, but the women are worried what will happen to them. While they express their frustrations amongst themselves, the light intensity floods in through the wall. A calm descends, and the children dance their way across the stage and out of the room. The woman in grey reappears, a muse indicating a way forward for Towler, who replicates her movements and gestures. Towler is left alone in a pool of fading light, her hand raised in an attitude of stoic resolve, or prayer.

Mbulelo Ndabeni: Face Up

 Two figures arrive stage left in the dark. Under a spotlight we see two men, one standing (Miguel Altunaga), the other (Mbulelo Ndabeni) seated on a bench. Altunaga takes off his raffish hat and jacket while Ndabeni remains reflective looking off into the wings. Face Up is clearly about the relationship between these two men, and it works on the dual levels of personal diary and public affirmation. The choreography derives from personal gesture and movement and its philosophical tone is dictated by three phrases in Ndabeni’s native tongue. One phrase states that when we are assailed by too many problems, it is better to take a step back and another that when you take a step back, the knots or problems can be undone. A third advises that even when you feel a lack of kindness in a given situation, don’t give up. From the repeated opening sequence of Altunaga running across the stage, stopping and walking backwards to where he starts, indecision is evidently one of the problems in this relationship, which alternates phases of fighting like children, pulling shirts and jumping on each other’s back, with other more accepting, more caring gestures. It is a constant struggle to retain a sense of respect despite their differences and the pressures they feel. Altunaga is the more extrovert, excitable and sulky, Ndabeni more quiet and philosophical, the one more likely to seek resolution even in the face of rejection. At one point Ndabeni embraces Altunaga, who ducks out leaving Ndabeni holding his position while Altunaga loses himself in a convoluted, shoulder-slapping dance with pumping sobs and the image of bound hands that returns from an opening sequence. After finally exhausting themselves in a flurry of flying falls and floor play, Ndabeni gets up. Both have their hands over their faces, as if not wanting to see or be seen. He drags his friend back to the bench where they take up their opening positions with Ndabeni’s rich, clicking voice saying “I will not give up” as the lights and music fade.

Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon: Heist

The only program note for Heist is a quote from René Magritte: “Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” Whatever it holds of significance for the choreographer’s creative juices, such a quote leaves the spectator in total panic of ever figuring out what he or she is about to see. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jonathan Goddard is in the spotlight, adjusting his tie, wiping his neck, pushing at his lapel, his hand around an imaginary figure. There is a figure in the background, in mirror image. It is Gemma Nixon who is backing up towards Goddard. Another man, Eryck Brahmania, enters between Nixon and Goddard. There is a conversation going on in which it is evident that Goddard has a beautifully expressive mime quality. The three form a fluid relationship puzzle, joined but not joined (remember the Magritte quote). The movement sequences repeat. Estella Merlos (much in demand in this evening’s program) enters into the light, a ménage à quatre. She repeats a gesture towards the ground made earlier by Brahmania, and the same lapel gesture as Goddard. She and Brahmania form a duet, melting into one another, turning, lifting, to a rumbling, driving, ticking soundtrack by Miguel Marin. Goddard and Nixon are sitting close by, watching until Nixon gets up to repeat Merlos’ gestures. The two men now partner the two women, starting with the same movements and then mutating them. The relations between the four are constantly shifting, formally and emotionally. The final statement before the lights fade is an enigmatic gesture by Merlos with her back to us. Heist is a fragment of a work, but a beautiful one. Despite the Magritte quote, this is the easiest work to take in visually as it is not narrative but choreographic in structure. There is no story to worry about, only patterns changing, reversing, repeating; it is the overall form that expresses something beyond what we are seeing. Heist seems to be the vestige of an original idea for the work; the idea has changed but the name hasn’t. Very Magritte.

Patricia Okenwa: Viriditas

 Viriditas, as the program notes explain, is a word associated with abbess Hildegard von Bingen and has many connotations, but fecundity is the one that seems to have struck a chord with Patricia Okenwa and her designer, Hyemi Shin: the stage is covered in white, polystyrene eggs of all sizes. Before the performance can begin, the stage manager and his assistant are placing them, carefully at first in a circle in the centre, then increasingly randomly around the stage, emptying out the last few with a suggestion of impatience. In the dark we hear what sounds like an ancient drawbridge descending, and a thundering avalanche followed the call of displaced ravens, a medieval prologue to Mark Bowden’s score, Viriditas. After such a cataclysmic event there shouldn’t be many eggs left, but as the lights come up five women in flowing grey robes and crocheted cowls are kneeling among them, unharmed and intact. The program notes explain that there are ‘six types of material’ in the music, ‘all derived from a continuous and never repeating melodic line, intertwined to create a continually shifting structure that moves between moments of tranquil calmness and erratic, hocketing episodes.’ In the Q&A after the performance Bowden has a simpler explanation and a revised figure: there are five women, five distinct characters and five corresponding types of music ‘chopped up into lots of little bits and mixed up into a structure so these five characteristics intertwine with each other.’ The costumes suggest an ecclesiastical setting, and the intensity of this medieval play without words is charged with religious fervor. Hannah Rudd is the first character to break out of the circle, light and jaunty, and a second follows to a darker, more moody theme. A third character is more frenetic and Antonette Dayrit is positively possessed, dancing out a wild ritual in expiation or exorcism of animal spirits. There are sections of healing and mutual encouragement, as when the four women watch Estela Merlos dance cathartically as the chosen sister. However, the brooding sense of ritual exorcism and self-flagellation continues to a dramatic climax with the crash of a gong. It is Rudd who then brings back an element of calm after a moment of silence. The women minister to Merlos who has dropped from exhaustion, lifting her up and circling around the egg-strewn stage in a final redemptive procession.