Rambert’s first outing with its new artistic director, Benoit Swan Pouffer, mixes two early works by big names and a piece by a choreographer starting out on a stage career. It’s a bold statement of intent – but a little underwhelming in reality.
The French hip-hop choreographer Marion Motin is best known to date for her music video work for artists such as Christine and the Queens and Dua Lipa. Rouge, dominated by its booming score by Micka Luna, shows she has yet to leave that aesthetic behind. Amid a cloud of dry ice, and accompanied by a guitarist sporting a smoking, The Edge-style hat, seven dancers pop up looking as if they have just raided the dressing-up box. A protracted sequence of them rising and falling finally gives way to them flinging off the fur coats, feather boas, dressing gowns etc. Great, you think, as red neon light strips start whipping across the stage, this is where they “leave the artificial world” and “find their real selves” (as the programme notes state). But after they spend some time accepting or rejecting each other’s advances, wiggling about in their scanties and throwing themselves into lots of spinning holds, the dancers just fall into a standard synchronised music video routine, perked up by a bit of strobe lighting and some Nineties-style d’n’b raving. It’s energetic, certainly, but disappointingly vacuous.
PreSentient, which preceded it, was created for Rambert by Wayne McGregor in 2002 – and you couldn’t mistake it for anyone else’s work. In response to Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet, the choreography is a flourish of angled limbs, kick splits and perilous lifts, mathematically plotted across the stage, and revolving around a tender central duet, here performed by Liam Francis and Brenda Lee Grech. Even though it’s not as extreme as some later McGregor pieces, it’s intimidating stuff – and a certain timidity on the part of Rambert’s dozen dancers seeps through. Miguel Altunaga has the fierce intention needed to make McGregor’s steps sing – elsewhere it’s just a little too polite, and so loses that thrilling sense of risk.
For the finale, Pouffer opts for Hofesh Shechter’s 2007 work In Your Rooms, the piece that put the Israeli choreographer firmly on the British dance map. A rambling, wryly funny voiceover talks about how we try to tame the chaos of the cosmos by constructing harmony and order – there’s a hectic, pulsing energy in the fast-cutting vignettes that Shechter creates from 11 dancers and Lee Curran’s imposing lighting design. Hunched and earthbound, mixing elements of folk with protest-like pumping fists, the dancers often seem like the minions in Dungeon Keeper, or vibrating atoms ricocheting off each other as the voiceover intones that “life is about surviving”. Yet amid what can be boisterously political in tone, there are flashes of vulnerability and personal connection that the dancers draw out very well. Could have done with an edit, though.