Rambert at The Festival Theatre sees the welcome return of one of my favourite dance companies to the Edinburgh stage with three performance works – “Tomorrow”, “Frames” and the classic “Ghost Dances”.
Rambert, like all contemporary dance companies, is forever dancing along that razor-wire of somehow producing cutting edge and sharp new works while at the same time developing or bringing back to life more traditional works that appeal to so many audiences and fit their definitions of what performance dance is. The problem of course is that there isn’t, and can never be, any one definition of what performance dance is as by its very nature it works on different levels on every person. One person’s safe and more traditional is another persons “boring”, and one person’s cutting edge and innovative is someone else’s “not dance to me”. The three works in this programme by their very diverse nature probably ticked every response possible with an audience tonight for different reasons...myself included.
First performance “Tomorrow” choreographed by Lucy Guerin is her first work for Rambert, and is the development of a collaboration between Lucy and theatre director Carrie Cracknell on a Young Vic/Birmingham Repertory Theatre/HOME co-production of Macbeth. The work is part of the “Shakespeare 400” celebrations of Shakespeare in his quatercentenary year.
The best way to give an overview to this work is to actually quote from the information on Rambert’s own website “Tomorrow inhabits the dark and dangerous world of Macbeth. Building on her recent, landmark production of the play, Lucy Guerin’s dance work gives physical life to the psychological conflict that led a man to murder.”
I have to admit that having not seen the stage production of the play, I feel that I lost a lot of the essence of this performance, and with the stage split in half most of the time with two halves of a story being performed on each side in very different styles, and to very different music (composed by Robin Rimbaud) I found that visually trying to watch and process both stories unfolding quite difficult. Also, from where I was sitting, I was almost in a direct centre of stage sightline, but for others as they were seated further round the auditorium, I imagine that that lowered dividing beam would have proved a bit of a visual obstacle. “Tomorrow” is two very contrasting performance styles, very contrasting costumes (Conor Murphy), colours and choreography. Against the wild dancing and fantasy style costumes of the witches on one side, we have the contemporary black styling of the murderous court of Macbeth and a very dark and violent story unfolding in more of a story telling silent performance than dance style. Very innovative and clever, but perhaps a bit too clever for me on the night, and I would benefit greatly from a second viewing of this performance now that I have had time to find out more about it.
Second Performance “Frames” choreographed by Alexander Whitley is literally as the name suggests twelve performers skilfully manipulating 70 interlocking metal bars, forming shapes that frame their body movements. Unlike the first performance, “Frames” does not to me appear to be narrative based, but then of course why should it be, but instead entirely visual, and there is when it works an amazing fluidity to watching the frames and the dancers change shape to flow together. I say “when” as the construction of the metal rods forming the new shapes by dancers in the background can be a bit distracting visually at times. This is also a performance work that calls for incredibly tight choreography and timing as someone at all times must be a counterbalance to the frame to stop it collapsing. There are times when the concentration required by the dancers to achieve this always changing but never collapsing frame working space seems to be a slight distraction from their own performance movements. Music for this work is by Daniel Bjarnason and seamlessly integrates into the fluidity of the “Frames” and the performers.
“Frames” is a bold and innovative work that at times reminded me of the fluidity and grace you can get from a performance at “Cirque du Soleil”, and at other times reminded me of building your own DIY furniture from IKEA...mixed emotions on this one, but do not all really bold and innovative new works have that effect on you?
Last, but not least, “Ghost Dances”. Returning to UK Stages for the first time in 13 years, this celebrated work by Christopher Bruce is an outstanding work that deserves all the credits given to it since its creation in 1981. Rambert’s own website once again sums up the work perfectly “This masterpiece is an evocative tribute to the victims of political oppression in South America. It tells stories of love and compassion, as death – in the form of the iconic “ghost dancers” – interrupts the daily lives of a series of ordinary people. Visually referencing celebrations of the Day of the Dead, and driven by the bewitching rhythms of traditional Latin American songs, it’s a moving, intensely human work.”
After the far more “cutting edge” performances of the first two works, Ghost Dances was a return to the for me far more solid spaces of a strong narrative told beautifully in dance movement, great costumes and a very good set. Add to that the almost hypnotic rhythms of the pan pipes that take you into another spiritual world while they also mingle with classic South American folk music sounds and it is easy to see and hear why this work is so highly regarded and loved by so many.
It was also very important to all performance pieces tonight that the music was provided by live musicians, and Rambert have to get a lot of credit for making the decision to go down this route rather than using pre-recorded music.
Not all performance to my personal taste in this one, but you can never really expect that on such a varied performance programme as this one. Rambert are making dance to appeal to many different personal emotions and responses, and it is always interesting to find out how others experienced the works.
For more information on Rambert, works and performances visit
Review by Tom King