Contemporaries: Flight, Frames, Hydrargyrum
London, Sadler’s Wells
8 November 2016
It would be an unadventurous company nowadays not to entertain the choreographic ambitions of its extended dance family; but, for most, the materialisation of such aspirations comes in a relatively quiet, small-scale exposure largely limited to friends, family and patrons. Not so for Rambert. Their take on offering the choreographic opportunity to follow the trail blazed by their own esteemed artistic director, Mark Baldwin, is to go big and – on this occasion – nothing but a full evening at Sadler’s Wells will do as a platform for the choreography of three former dancers, now joined together as part of the New Movement Collective. It was still a night for support from friends, since most – if not all – of the extended family of NMC were there, this night, to cheer their contemporaries on.
Malgorzata Dzierzon, Patricia Okenwa and Alexander Whitley are all at different stages of their emergence as choreographers. Each of them has progressed with the active support of Rambert’s choreographic development programme but there is little similarity in their choreographic ideas and movement apart, that is, from a rich seam of originality that suffuses each individual’s work.
First up on this special evening was Dzierson’s Flight, which impressed me with the beauty of its imagery. It is inspired by the Polish-born choreographer’s own experiences of travel and migration, perhaps made more resonant with strong ideas and sentiment through being created during the EU Referendum campaign. The outcome is a potpourri of shifting environments and emotions, in which music (by Somei Satoh and Kate Whitley), video designs, exceptional lighting effects (Paul Keoghan) and evocative costumes (Jane Janey) bring that most elusive of impacts to the directorial side of Dzierson’s leadership, which is to have clearly achieved a strong consensus of collaboration from her team. Most of the Rambert dancers were engaged in the work, which – perhaps for the first time – brought Edit Domoszlai to my attention. Her top-and-tail duets with Miguel Altunaga (memorably standing on his thighs at one point) and the always impressive Simone Damberg Würz were exceptional.
I hope it is not offensive to his contemporaries, if I say that Alexander Whitley is the more established dance maker of this trio. His Frames was the only returning piece, having been performed during the spring 2015 Rambert season, including here at Sadler’s Wells. It opened with Liam Francis reprising Dane Hurst’s memorable duet with a pole before eleven other dancers arrive, bearing similar metal rods. Whitley’s subsequent choreography plays with the thematic concept of erecting these frames into incomplete gazebo-like structures alongside the idea of constructing inter-linked steps for the dancers. The R&D for the work was based upon a concept of creating dance as performed by Chinese factory workers, partnering the items that they were manufacturing. This notion was further enhanced by the frictional industrial sounds of Daníel Bjarnason’s music.
In Frames, Whitley’s choreography creates a clever interaction of dance, set construction and lighting in a seamless interaction between people and things. I enjoyed it more than I had done, last year. The idea of materials inter-acting with human performers seems to be a central tenet of Whitley’s work and this extends to performers dancing with their own lighting rigs; here, self-assembled from the aforementioned metal rods. The concept is developed further in his later piece, Pattern Recognition, where lighting units take on the image of becoming miniature, metal dancers.
From beautiful migratory and industrial imagery we were transported to the fluid potential of group work in Patricia Okenwa’s Hydrargyrum, which is an esoteric and archaic name for mercury. Six dancers were clothed in hooded costumes that gave them a genderless anonymity. Perhaps simply because it was fresh in my mind from the TV (Planet Earth) on the previous Sunday; the way they bobbed around and then became momentarily rigid, holding awkward poses, reminded me of baby iguanas about to be chased by snakes! Although Okenwa chose to work with a much smaller group of dancers, she has achieved a greater impression of scale, which must have much to do with her strong spatial awareness and intuitively juxtaposing the movement of individuals within the group dynamic.
Throughout the evening, the Rambert dancers were at their effervescent best. Altunaga was ever-present and ever-excellent and Domoszlai was another dancer to impress across the whole programme. Strong images in the opening pair of works came from Hannah Rudd and Pierre Tappon and, once more, the tall, balletic elegance of Joshua Barwick created some memorable shapes, in the opening piece.
Some of these dancers will no doubt also go on to become successful choreographers. They would do well to remember one golden rule for contemporary dance, which is to score points as long as they are there to be scored, but once there is nothing more to be said, choreographically, then to leave the stage. If there is a fault with these three works – and there is much to commend each of them – it is that they carry on after there is nothing more to be said. Each begins and ends strongly but there is too much conceptually repetitive content in the latter part of the middle sections that frankly could be edited out to make them even better works. Less is so often, more.