Sadler’s Wells, London
May 17, 2017
Making a welcome return after 13 years out of the repertory, Rambert’s latest triple bill is headlined by Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances. Although created as a response to the authoritarian and brutal Pinochet regime that ruled Chile in the 1970s and 1980s, and under which thousands of so-called enemies of the state and ordinary people disappeared, it remains hugely relevant; a moving tribute to victims of political oppression everywhere.
The three guant figures in skull masks and ragged loincloths dominate the work. Even when simply lurking on their rocky outcrops, the way they move, slithering around the stage and each other, yells death and disappearance. In contrast, the folk dance influenced choreography for the ordinary folk is filled with a sense of loss and a yearning for friends gone, for times past, for freedom. At the end of each dance, the people fall to the ground, then carried or dragged away, each representing one of the ‘disappeared’.
Ghost Dances is all danced in front of Bruce’s own rather Romantic backdrop of Chilean scenery, and to South American folk music played on panpipes and guitar. Toss in the haunting singing of Claudia Figueroa and you have a marvellously magical and poignant mix, and a classic of contemporary dance.
Ghosts can be seen in the opening work of the evening too, The days run away like wild horses by Aletta Collins. It’s about a woman and her memories. The superb opening section, inspired by Zbigniew Rybcyński’s 1983 Oscar-winning short animation, Tango, has an increasingly comic note. A she sits alone, the stage becomes increasingly crowded by people from her memories; her ghosts. Among them is her young son, who climbs in through a window and tumbles out again, a girl with her homework, a jogger, a man with a Christmas tree, a couple of lovers and, most amusingly of all, a plumber carrying a toilet. Each repeats their movement again and again. In one sense none interact, but in another they very much do simply by being in the same space; certainly, the many pieces slowly form an complex whole.
A change of gear sees the set swept away, the cast reappear all identically dressed as the woman and her husband. That dance is neatly put together with well-structured ensemble and small group sections, but there is very little sense of the woman herself. Indeed, it seems to be as much a pure dance response to Arturo Márquez’s score as anything else; albeit a very pleasant response. Collins does pull it back at the end with a brief reappearance of the opening characters, though.
Rather sharper and overall more appealing is Didy Veldman’s The 3 Dancers, inspired by Pablo Picasso’s 1925 painting of the same name. Much has been written about the picture and who the three figures might be, but while Veldman occasionally arranges her dancers in poses that hint at the Picasso, and hints at some of themes in his artwork, she turns away from any direct narrative, preferring to focus on applying the artist’s Cubism strategies and perspectives to choreography.
The result is a gorgeous dance of contrasting dynamics and styles, and of light and shadow. The work’s six dancers are split into two trios one in white, one in black, which can be seen as two sides of the same people. Initially, they perform separately, one continuing or echoing the other’s dance, although later the groups mix.
The portrait can be seen at the beginning as the two groups of three shift and entwine, their fingers never losing contact from those of their partners. As things get more complex, almost upbeat, exuberant moments are interspersed with more considered, darker, sections. Those moods are also reflected in Elena Kats-Chernin’s score.
In contrast to the colour of the painting, Kimie Nakamo’s set design is as monochromatic as her costumes. The straight lines so often associated with Cubism are reflected in three huge mirrored shards that descend, and that reflect the more curved forms of the dancers.