And so it proved with Life is a Dream, his much-anticipated new work for Rambert, which is the company’s first bespoke full-length ballet for almost 40 years. It is visually dazzling, intellectually stimulating, and emotionally gripping.
An allegoric play by the 17th century Spanish dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, provided Brandstrup’s starting point. It tells the tale of an incarcerated Polish Prince, who is freed for one day and, realising what he’s missed, goes on a rampage in an attempt to reclaim his life. Captured and imprisoned again, he wakes up thinking all he has experienced is but a dream. When he is pardoned and let out once more, he approaches the world with caution, as if life is a dream that could evaporate at any time.
Brandstrup’s Life is a Dream, is not, however, a linear telling of that story – far from it. He brings in other strands suggested, first of all, by the music of the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski, whose haunting, often dreamy melodies were essentially an escape from the bleakness and oppression of Communist Poland.
To that Brandstrup added his memories of other Polish artists of the 1960s, most particularly the theatre laboratory of Jerzy Grotowsky, and black and white images of Grotowsky’s rehearsals in a dark and bleak room.
To understand Kim Brandstrup’s aesthetic, you have to remember that he studied film before turning to dance, and there is a filmic quality to much of his work, which makes it in many ways unique.
In Life is a Dream that quality is enhanced by design from the film-makers and stop motion pioneers, the Quay Brothers, and truly remarkable lighting by Jean Kalman. Together they use light and shade to an extraordinarily effective and mood altering degree.
The whole visual of the piece is in a black and white palette, the light now starkly white, now murky like an ominous fog revealing previously unseen nooks and shadows. The notes of Lutoslawski’s Interlude for Orchestra rising oh so gradually from the pit (where the outstanding orchestra is conducted by Paul Hoskins), immediately establish an oneiric climate. The curtain goes up to reveal a derelict rehearsal studio with two tall mullioned windows at the back. Slumped over his desk, a theatre director (Liam Francis) drifts off, and images of the day’s rehearsal of Calderón´s play crowd his mind.
The dancers gradually emerge detaching themselves from the scenery like incorporeal images. They, too, are clad in tones of black, white and grey, in costumes that very cleverly combine typical 1950s and 60s lines, comfortable rehearsal kit, and 17th century fashion such as men’s pleated culottes (there is a whole other essay to be written on Holly Waddington's fascinating costumes alone…).
Life is a Dream, Sharia Johnson, Juan Gil and Rambert Dancers, photo Johan Persson
They re-enact snatches from the day’s rehearsals, in ever more outlandish ways, as forced by the director’s increasing delusions of omnipotence. Gradually, the climate in that studio changes. The windows now look like the barred windows of a prison. Film projections of dense tree foliage, seen through the murky glass, enter the room itself; then a slow motion film of the sky, clouds and a roving moon seems momentarily to suspend life itself.
In the second half of Life is a Dream, the director ventures outside the boundaries of his own dream, and as he ever more frantically tries – and fails – to control the dancers, who are now assertively the owners and agents of their own lives, he realises he cannot hold on to the outside world and returns to his own safe dream space.
It is the dreaming, the desiring that’s important, not the getting – Brandstrup seems to be telling us.
Rambert’s 20 dancers are on top form and offer a committed and totally convincing reading of this multi-layered and exhilarating ballet. In Life is a Dream Brandstrup has created a work that speaks to all of Rambert’s many qualities, and one which, in its complexity, will go on unveiling new layers of meaning on second, third and fourth viewing.
Free pre-show talk: Thu at 18:30
Sign language interpreted show: Thu
|What||Rambert, Life is a Dream Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
22 May 18 – 26 May 18, 19:30 Sat mat 14:30 Dur.: 1 hour 50 mins incl one interval
|Price||£12-£45 (tues preview £10-£30)|
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|