Peacock Theatre, London
June 28, 2016
Dance in schools is having a bit of a hard time of it right now, so hurrah for Rambert Elements, a year-long project in which the company’s Learning and Participation team worked with 36 schools and colleges across the country (selected from 70 applicants) to develop skills and experience in choreography. One group from each of six regional platforms was chosen to perform at this national showcase in London accompanied live by the Rambert Orchestra; and what an enjoyable, entertaining and interesting evening it turned out to be. Without exception, the young performers gave everything in a very professional display. If anyone had nerves, they kept them well hidden.
Each of the groups made work using one of three choreography toolkits put together by Mark Baldwin, Aletta Collins and Alexander Whitley, each containing a piece of music, a theme and various sources of inspiration and suggested creative tasks. Although the teachers attended a skills weekend at Rambert, there was no Rambert involvement in the works themselves. For students and some teachers alike it was undoubtedly quite a challenge, not least because all three pieces of music were rather different from what is usually used in schools. One teacher also reckoned that 11 minutes was a “mammoth” length.
Despite the challenges, all the choreographies were very musical. They were a mix of styles, and while the level of construction varied, all held the attention well. Credit also to the teachers for ensuring the choreography presented the dancers to their best, almost always showing us what they could do well, not what they couldn’t.
My favourite was Glasgow Clyde College’s contribution. Using Alexander Whitley’s toolkit and to They come, the burning by Quinta (the works didn’t come with individual titles), it opened with the striking image of dancers standing on small platforms being slowly rotated by others; a little like slow-motion music boxes. What followed had a gorgeous sense of warmth. One or two images suggested lying on a lawn on a sunny summer day. It was dance to wallow in, well-constructed and beautifully performed with the 18-21-year olds’ good technique shining through. Lovely costumes too – all black with purple or green bands around the waist.
While the desire to give everyone maximum stage time is understandable, having everybody on stage pretty much the whole time rarely makes for the best choreography, and certainly limits the options. For eschewing that, I take my hat off to Dereham Neatherd School from Norfolk (14-18 years). Working with Mark Baldwin’s toolkit and Adjustable Wrench by Michael Torke, they created a dance that included many short sections for trios, duets and even solos, thus giving everyone a moment in the spotlight. The interest was kept up constantly with entrances, exits and ever changing combinations of dancers. The piece also benefitted from having a couple of strong boys who gave the dance an extra dimension.
A special mention too for the youngest group (12-15-year olds) from Dame Allan’s School in Newcastle upon Tyne, who in their block colour T-shirts and socks were also the most colourful (design, of course, being an important part of choreography). Made using Aletta Collins’ toolkit and to Inside Out II by Tansy Davies (which my guess is sounded very strange when they first heard it), the piece suited the age group well, and how nice it was to see props (picture frames) incorporated so easily into the dance.
Also performing were groups from Stratford-upon-Avon College (the largest group with a cast of 20 16-18 years), Exeter College (17-18 years), and Lewisham and Southwark College (18-21 years).
One thought for the future. It would have been nice to know a little more about the specific inspiration for each piece though; we were only told which toolkit each was based on.
At a time when dance in schools, and indeed the performing arts generally, is under severe threat (recent figures indicate a drop in GCSE entries of 8% in the arts overall and 11% in dance in 2016), projects like Rambert Elements are desperately important, not only to the development and education of the students (and teachers) involved, but in raising dance’s profile and banging the drum for the artform. The good news is that Rambert are working on a long-term funding proposal and hope to run the project again from the 2017-18 academic year onwards.