Now, though, the programme note for its latest bill, Death Trap, states it aims ‘to move the world forward.’
Will it do so through dance-theatre? The double bill of works by the ever inventive and mischievous Ben Duke certainly offers plenty of food for thought; too much, in fact, but containing too little dancing.
It brings together two Ben Duke commissions for Rambert: Goat, from 2017, and Cerberus from 2022. Seen separately as part of mixed bills of dance each stood out as original and engaging. Seen together, though, they make for a heavy, indigestible programme that highlights the acting ability of Rambert’s 17-strong company, but sadly shows little of their dancing.
Of the two, Cerberus (pictured top) is the most cohesive. Named after the multi-headed dog of Greek myth that guarded the entrance to the underworld, it’s a spirited meditation on life and the futility of resisting death, inspired by Orpheus and Eurydice.
Life is the effortful progress from stage right (birth) to stage left (death) as enacted by a woman, Aishwarya Raut, pulling against a rope tied around her waist.
In a comic two-hander Antonello Sangirardi voices his search for Aishwarya in anguished Italian speech translated into English by another dancer, rendered into sign language by Clare Edwards, brilliantly integrated into the action.
Meanwhile, a procession of people march rhythmically and inexorably towards their deaths, all efforts to make them turn back proving in vain. Brief dance interludes, atmospherically lit by Jackie Shemesh, lead to the final sequence where Antonello plunges into the underworld to retrieve Aishwarya.
The abrupt finale requires sharp split-second timing to pack its powerful punch. On press night, though, the timing was slightly off, blunting its impact.
The second piece in the programme is Goat.
Rambert dancers in Death Trap. Photo: Camilla Greenwell
Set in a shabby assembly hall, where a couple of musicians stand on a raised platform, this is a cutting satire on revivalist meetings and television’s eagerness to be live at all manner of events, the more gruesome the better.
The proceedings are narrated by Angélique Blasco as a gormless TV reporter, and her cameraman, intent on covering the human sacrifice about to take place (inspired obviously by The Rite of Spring), supposed to help cleanse the world of its manifold woes: ‘the grief, the ignorance, the shame, the lies…’
All this punctuated by Nina Simone’s music, sung live by Sheree DuBois, and by sequences where the dancers bunch together and break into jagged, ritualistic collective movement.
Throughout Blasco is constantly intrusive, trying to interview the participants and reaching heights of naffness when asking Jonathan, chosen to dance himself to death, what he thought would happen, to which the stunned victim replies: ‘I don’t know, I’ve never done it before.’
After Jonathan’s death, his lover raises him and together they dance a beautifully calibrated duet of raw love and despair to a mournful rendition of Feelings.
Good as both pieces are, I hope this programme doesn't mean Rambert intends to push pure dance into second place in its stated new mission 'to change the world for the better'.
|What||Rambert, Death Trap review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
22 Nov 23 – 25 Nov 23, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour 35 mins inc one interval
|Website||Click here to book|