On 4th November, I was lucky enough to get to see and review Rambert2 perform at the Sadler’s Wells theatre in Angel. I know pretty much nothing about dance (brilliant), though I’m a sucker for physicality in cinema, ever amazed by what it can reveal about a character’s emotional life where speech falls short.
Hoping that this would be enough for me to glean some insight, I hurled myself at the task at hand. I still think ‘review’ would be a stretch though, so I present to you instead some ‘musings’ about the performance, which, spoiler alert, I found pretty damn affecting. So, if you’re looking for a dissection of the tempo of the arabesques, click away now. If you’re content with a layman’s burblings, by all means carry on through.
The show was divided into three half-hour acts, with a five-minute break at the end of each. The theatre also had a strict policy on re-entry; if you hadn’t returned to your seat by the time the next performance was about to begin, you weren’t allowed back in until the next break. Initially I thought this was pretty unreasonable, particularly when (through no one’s fault but mine) I found myself on the receiving end of it, and was forced to watch the first act on a TV screen at the bar. But by the end of the second performance, it became clear why the breaks were kept brief and the un-abiding citizens culled. All three performances have their own flavour, but they are also each other’s lifeblood; a lens through which to digest the next.
Terms and Conditions (Choreography Jermaine Marcus Spivey)
Terms and Conditions is about the paradoxes of community, the desire of every person to express their individuality, but also to belong, and the tension that exists between the two wants.
The dancers are all dressed for the occasion in white hazmat suits, giving them the look of factory workers, and peppering in some conformity/revolt symbolism before we’ve even begun.
The routine that follows is one of deliberate, unsettling contradictions, sequences that are fluid one moment, mechanical the next. Tension builds as the kick drums quicken, like a ticking time bomb on the verge of exploding. The way the dancers move as a collective is fascinating. They’ll erode the boarders between their separate selves in one moment and re-establish them the next, fashioning bizarre forms from their constant motion. There is a plasmic quality to the act, like watching a set of cells divide and multiply.
At one chilling point in the performance, the dancers fall to the floor to fading music, rocking side by side, clutching themselves. The spectacle of squirming feels eerily akin to watching people attempt to wrestle themselves out of strait-jackets.
When the dancers rise again they are masked as cyborgs. Limb by limb, in perfect robotic synch with one another, they gently rise. They now move to the music with steely precision. As the beat becomes more hammering, it drills down upon their bodies in a spectacle of pure physicality.
When the masks are removed, the dancers begin rotating in a slow queue around the stage. The piece ends with each of them taking turns to lie at the processions’ centre, breaking briefly free of the sway of conformity before being pulled again into the safety of its orbit.
Sin (Choreography Damien Jalet and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui)
Sin explores the toxicity that arises in couple hood, the desperate attempts to dominate, or to reconcile imbalance. The piece begins with Prince Lyons standing to the front of the stage, holding himself. His hands slide slowly from his torso to his face, and suddenly he begins to tug at his skin, attacking himself. He is joined shortly by his partner, Minouche Van de Ven, who slides her hands around his waist as if to soothe him, but quickly jerks her hand to enclose his throat, her movements echoing his own self-harm.
What follows walks an emotional tightrope between erotic and violent, sometimes blurring the distinctions entirely. As the interlocking pair wrestle together at dizzying speeds, we are never sure whether their intent is to heal or to hurt each other. Sometimes it felt that all that could be the decider were the audience members’ lens of projection. It was an unsettling experience, feeling like the person next to me might be thinking and feeling something completely other.
At one point, Lyons falls to the floor, and Van de Ven continues to dance alone, her aggression turned inward. Her movements spiral, becoming increasingly unhinged. Her restless form cavorts around his motionless one, whether in a state of ecstasy of devastation we don’t know.
Eventually she tires, falls to join him on the floor. In doing so it feels like she is surrendering something of herself; in the final joining of their bodies it seems that something of the life in both of them has been annihilated. she lies on top of him, both panting heavily as if they’ve just climaxed.
The piece is about all about perversions of desire; the beauty of it, the danger of it. There is a masochism too, in the dancers’ obviously doomed attempts at reconciliation, at their clutching of the straws of phantom love with increasing desperation.
SAMA (Choreography Andrea Miller)
Set to Nicholas Jaar’s “John the Revenant”, there was something deeply prophetic about the final performance. I felt I was witnessing movement in the way it had always intended to be used, as a ritualistic, language transcending, community binding act.
It was perhaps the hardest for me to wrap my head around, and though Terms and Conditions and Sin were a far cry from conventionality, Sama barely felt human. It reimagines movement entirely, glimpsing a universe where individuals might use it to pierce through their own skin, to express and transcend.
Boundaries between object and subject dissolve entirely, as tenacity and spirit of movement are showcased in countless ways. It was like travelling to a bizarre dystopia, in which every flavour of movement was explored.
Watching the final performance was a fascinating, alienating experience. It seemed to imagine the future place of the body as a communicator of emotion, in the richest array of ways possible. Whether this imagined future is an antidote to where we are currently headed or an ultimate conclusion is difficult to say. Whatever it was, it was glorious to witness.
All photographs belong to Rambert, thank you for inviting us!