It’s a busy time for Kim Brandstrup with a premiere last month at New York City Ballet, swiftly followed by a Rambert premiere and next spring a full-evening work for Royal Danish Ballet gets unveiled in Copenhagen. The Rambert premiere, Transfigured Night, was last week in the splendidly comfortable Birmingham Repertory Theatre and this week you can see it, and their other recent commission, Didy Veldman’s The 3 Dancers, both new to London, at Sadler’s Wells. Based on the Brandstrup alone I’d say you would be daft to miss seeing them.
Kim Brandstrup, like Richard Alston, always seems to use interesting music – in this case Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. From 1899, it’s both modern and, as Brandstrup puts it in his excellent programme note, “you also sense the weighty shadow of romanticism in the piece”. It takes its title from the poem of Richard Dehmel in which a woman tells her partner that she is pregnant by another man. Brandstrup takes the idea of a devastating admission and plays with it in three possible outcomes over 30 minutes of dance – 1: painful rejection by the partner; 2: acceptance and loving support of the new reality (the saint’s way of handling things one suspects) and 3: the reality of muddling through and trying to patch things up – will trust ever be restored?
The stage is dominated by a heavy, off-centre, column – the terrible disclosure made manifest – and it’s danced around and casts a long, sharp, shadow over proceedings. The stage is a gloomy place for the couple (Simone Damberg Würtz and Miguel Altunaga – both good) to dance, remonstrate and attempt to make up. The movement flows effortlessly, the pain and torment is palpable but nothing seems particularly twitchy or as gut-wrenching as you might expect. Brandstrup’s ace is to draw on the fuller company to create a corps of dark-clad figures that echo the pained thoughts and interactions of the couple. Rather like a flock of starlings they wheel and eddy around, a mix of good emotions, bad emotions and flights of fancy that support the couple as they work to sort things out. All up, the stage looks a swirl of melancholy and hope, a mix of Brandstrup’s famous cinematic eye and the dignified beauty of classical sculpture almost – if in this case it moves. It’s a piece I could watch many times and find new things in. I also have to mention Dane Hurst and Hannah Rudd as the more saintly, white pairing – such a different tone and Brandstrup draws a particularly strong performance from Hurst who has such magical and fluid control. Not a National Dance Awards winner for nothing. But Transfigured Night is a credit to all the dancers and creatives.
If Brandstrup has done a rather atypical and painterly thing with most of the Rambert dancers, Alexander Whitley has done something much more modern and mechanical. We interviewed Whitley about his Frames just before it was premiered and Jann Parry subsequently reviewed it in London. It’s a work I’ve not seen before and was looking forward to – Whitley is on a roll of commissions it seems and all that work should feed into ever more accomplished dance pieces in the longer term. Frames is about using dancers as workers – they have lengths of metal which they can join in various ways and the piece, with its largely minimalist chugging score (Daniel Bjarnason), is about seeing what can be achieved with the ingredients. At the start it feels like a very dull workshop experiment as dancers noodle with the bars to no great artistic effect. As it goes on there is a bit more to see as the frames are linked and become structures that are part of a dance piece (ie not noodling) and by the end it is where you wish it had started and value has been added to the bars (and to dancers’ movement) to make them useful – parallelling the industrialisation that inspired it.
The nearest thing Rambert has to the sure fire box office hits of a ballet company’s Swan Lake or Romeo and Juliet is Christopher Bruce’s Rooster. Wowing Rambert audiences for over 20 years now, the mix of 8 Rolling Stones songs illustrated by big movement in Marion Bruce period 60’s costumes, zings along from start to finish. It’s witty, nostalgic and a reminder of a time when women were starting to question stereotypes and find some new freedoms. But it’s still a man’s world (and piece) as the boys strut and preen, none more so that Miguel Altunaga who opens proceedings in Little Red Rooster – nothing little there you think as he dominates the stage. The rest is history and the audience went home happy. Needless to say that Rooster is also part of Rambert’s Sadler’s Wells bill…