Dance Review: Rambert Mixed Bill

Where: Sadler’s Wells / When: 25th October 2013

Rambert performed three mid-length works: Subterrain (chor. Ashley Page), A Comedy of Change (chor. Mark Baldwin) and Castaways (chor. Barak Marshall)

Together, these works seemed to be exploring our most primal instincts; our origins and our responses to stress. There was a strange, alien feeling throughout and the performances worked as the best dance should – evoking an instinctual, emotive reaction.

The first, Subterrain seemed to explore some sort of apocalyptic future. The set dressing was sparse; a grate-like image was projected onto the floor, echoing the suggestion of an underground life hinted at in the title. The opening was frenetic, full of a sense of urgency. As the piece progressed, this energy was replaced by a sense of quiet desperation and a sort of hollow seeming sadness. The dancers in the piece seemed to become more and more desperate, clinging to each other as the mood changes. The music had a spooky, edgy feel and there was a sense of unease and tension undercutting throughout. The dancers had a mesmerising fluidity and lent a good deal of longing to their movements.

A Comedy of Change is probably one of the stranger (and more pretentious) things I’ve seen in the theatre, but was strangely compelling nonetheless. While the work is based on Darwin’s theory of evolution, it also reminded me of aliens discovering life on earth – there was an odd, unreal quality to the dancers’ movements, as if they’d just discovered the power of their own limbs. The uniform, unisex costumes added to the otherworldliness. Again, the music was spooky and unsettling and I felt almost afraid of these oddly bent creatures on stage. There were nice little dots of humour throughout, which were well timed, considering the bleaker tone of the bookending works.

Castaways was full of a strange, surrealist joy. It had a big brother-esque atmosphere, with 12 strangers stranded on an island against their will, with no idea of why or what was to come, always watched by an unseen force. The work combined speech with movement, which I enjoyed. It was interesting to see the dancers able to mix it up, performance wise. The work was full of vibrancy and colour and was utterly compelling to watch. The clashing styles of music added to the sense of rising panic and the dancers’ movements felt like they were beyond their control – as if they were puppets under someone else’s direction. There was also a sense of familiarity or repetition; as if they had done this a million times before, and would do so a million times after. I liked the decision to break the fourth wall and turn the lights on the audience towards the end. .

The Rambert dancers were spectacular throughout and I felt moved and thought provoked. Well worth a watch.

Disclaimer: All reviews are my personal opinions and are in no way intended as a professional critique of the performances

Book Review: The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

9780099563693

I am a big fan of Sadie Jones’ debut work, The Outcast, which is a compelling, beautiful work. This book takes an entirely new direction. It is still set in the past, but is a comedy of manners and story of the supernatural bound up together. The book wasn’t especially challenging and was definitely on the lighter side. However, it was an engaging, lively read, with plenty of plot twists.

The Torrington family live in the crumbling Sterne house, desperate for money to cling onto their home. The Torrington patriarch has lately died and it is left to Edward Swift, new husband to our matriarch Charlotte and step-father to Emerald, Clovis and Smudge, to resolve the problem. His departure at the start of the story sets in motion the rest of the plot.

It is Emerald’s 20th birthday and she is on the cusp of adulthood, beginning to understand her own attractiveness and taking on the concerns and worries of her home. Clovis, her younger brother, is in the restless young man mould that Jones does so well. He is fighting his natural good humour to punish his family for his not being the man of the house. Smudge, the littlest, seems entirely separate and distanced from the others, partly because of the age gap and partly because she’s off in her own world most of the time. Then we have Florence, housekeeper and someone who shares a significant and mysterious past with Charlotte. Charlotte herself is a vain, rather self-interested character, who is shown to be manipulative and calculated from the opening, leaving us little hints as to what might come.

The story seems to be a family comedy of manners for the first half of the novel, everybody tripping over themselves to get the house ready for Emerald’s party, all of them wrapped up in their own minute concerns and simultaneously anticipating and dreading the arrival of the guests: Ernest and Patience Sutton, childhood friends of Emerald and Clovis and local neighbour John, who has designs on Emerald. All seems to be going to plan until news reaches the family of a dreadful train crash. Displaced passengers are sent up to the house, including one who appears to have a rather sinister purpose. From then on, the story shifts into a spooky telling of the supernatural, with the party and our central characters descending into chaos, revealing their darker, baser instincts as well as their best qualities while under duress.

Jones crafts a wonderful atmosphere of unease and eeriness. You sense all is not right from the moment the uninvited guests of the title arrive. Our central cast observe oddities about them individually, while remaining blissfully unaware of the implications, allowing the reader to build an omniscient knowledge of what’s to come. The ‘surprise’ ending is not all that much of a surprise, but I’m not sure it’s supposed to be and it’s a highly enjoyable ride getting there. The atmosphere, period detail and careful characterisation all add colour to the story, and the plot moves at an excellently brisk pace. A fun, light-hearted read that is perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Dance Review: English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire

Where:  Milton Keynes Theatre / When: 18th October 2013

I was lucky enough to see Le Corsaire on only its second night. The ballet opened in Milton Keynes and we were thrilled to be able to watch Tamara Rojo dance the lead female role of Medora. The basic plot was: Pirate Conrad falls in love with the beautiful dancer Medora, a prisoner of slave owner Lankedum. Conrad resolves to rescue her, and is almost successful. However, The Pasha, a very wealthy local dignitary, spies Medora dancing as they try to escape and is immediately enraptured. He buys her from Lankedum and takes her to be part of his harem. Conrad and his crew set off to rescue Medora once again, but all does not go to plan…

The set and costume design for the ballet was incredible. The colours were full and vibrant, and the ballet felt luxurious, seen in both in the sumptuousness of the sets and in the huge variety of costumes worn by the company. A far off, exotic landscape was evoked and greatly added to the adventurous tone of the work. Rojo and Fernando Bufala, who performed the role of Conrad, danced a beautiful pas de deux in the second act and the group scenes early on between the pirates and their slave women were a joy to watch. The action definitely picked up in the latter half of the ballet and seemed to be paced far better than the earlier scenes. The score was well suited, if not especially memorable.

Of the supporting roles, I particularly enjoyed Michael Coleman’s bumbling, Bacchus-like Pasha and Joan Zamora as Ali, Conrad’s assistant. Coleman filled his role with joy and humour, adding a lightness to a potentially very sinister part and Zamora performed Ali with grace and gentleness, creating a genuinely affecting connection with the audience.

Personally, I found Le Corsaire beautiful to look at, but felt it was a little muddled in plot. It took a long time to get going and then, when it did pick up, all the action happened at breakneck pace. The background of sexual slavery, along with all the female dancers being rather scantily clad felt to me to be a little…out-dated. While many more traditional ballets do have misogynistic undertones, it was strange to watch such a female dominated company perform what felt like a rather sexist ballet.

The company’s performance last time I saw them, in Sleeping Beauty felt rather stiff and restrained. It was a treat, therefore, to see Rojo and the company as a whole evidently far more relaxed and enjoying the performance. ENB has gone through a sustained period of change in the last 18 months and it seems to be coping with and embracing that change admirably. I can’t wait to see them in a more modern performance in Lest We Forget at the Barbican next year.

Disclaimer: All reviews are my personal opinions and are in no way intended as a professional critique of the performances.