Rambert Dance Company
Hush, Monolith, L’après-midi d’un faune, What Wild Ecstasy
Hong Kong, Kwai Tsing Theatre
14 September 2012
A version of this review previously appeared in the South China Morning Post
Rambert Dance Company rarely performs outside Europe and Hong Kong was fortunate to be included on its current Asian tour. The choice of programme was something of a curate’s egg – disappointingly so in view of the company’s rich repertoire – but two out of the four works were excellent and the dancing was spectacular.
Christopher Bruce’s Hush, set to music by Bobby McFerrin and Yo Yo Ma, portrays a family (mother, father and four children) in Commedia dell’Arte costumes and white-face make-up which evoke some of Picasso’s early paintings (and indeed memories of Bruce himself in Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire). I saw the piece in London some time ago and it made a stronger impression on this second viewing – like most good work, it has continued to develop and take on a life of its own. Embued with Bruce’s typical quirkiness and warm humanity, the piece is well-structured, varied and lively with vivid touches of tenderness or sly humour. Above all, the choreography is beautifully made – flowing, intensely musical and perfectly finished. Although this may not be one of Bruce’s greatest works (how I wished the company had brought its revival of Swansong) it’s a fine example of his style and demonstrates his mastery of the art form. It was performed quite superbly by the entire cast.
Monolith was created for Rambert in 2011 by Tim Rushton, who was born in the UK and trained at the Royal Ballet School but has spent most of his career in Denmark. The theme of the piece – the mystical force of ancient worship embodied by sites such as Stonehenge – is conjured up by truly stunning design and lighting (by Charlotte Ostergaard, Malcolm Glanville and Rushton himself). The choice of music, Peteris Vasks’ haunting Quartet for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello, is also excellent. Although it loses pace in the middle, the work is well made. Rushton’s background in classical ballet shows in his effective use of space and juxtaposition of group and solo dancing as well as the complex, difficult partnering. The choreography demands considerable athleticism and was executed admirably by the dancers. It ends on a subtle yet powerful, elegiac note as the dancers sit down to face the rising sun with quiet awe. This is another piece which should continue to develop and would re-pay being seen again.
Unfortunately, the final section of the programme was a letdown. Nijinsky’s 1912 L’Après-midi d’un Faune is today a historical curiosity and there is little justification in performing it other than in a historical context. It didn’t help that the programme notes gave none of the basic history or background which a non-expert needs to make sense of the piece and audience reaction was understandably bemused, if polite. Dane Hurst did well in capturing something of the Faun’s elusive, not quite human, quality but the nymphs were dismally unconvincing.
What Wild Ecstasy by the troupe’s artistic director, Mark Baldwin, was alas neither ecstatic nor wild. The choreography and the psychedelic costumes in day-glo pinks and oranges looked like something out of a B movie about hippies circa 1968. I have no idea what the 3 huge insects suspended above the stage or the shower of yellow pingpong balls which rained down at the end were supposed to mean. The whole thing was, as Colonel Volestrangler on Monty Python used to say, “a bit too silly”.
Rambert is very much an ensemble company and all the dancing was of a high standard, but special praise goes to outstanding work from Angela Towler, Pieter Symonds, Kirill Burlov, Estela Merlos, Miguel Altunaga and Robin Gladwin. It was also a pleasure to see the ebullient Eryck Brahmania, a former soloist with Hong Kong Ballet, make a welcome return to the stage here.