Marie Rambert, uncertainty and separation: New English Ballet Theatre in Wayne Eagling’s Remembrance

October 15, 2020

Charlotte Kasner

How apposite that New English Ballet’s film of Wayne Eagling’s Remembrance has been released now. No one who saw the production in its initial run in 2018 could have imagined that it would be impossible to repeat the performance live two years on. Today, in the midst of a global pandemic that makes life for most more unpredictable than at any other time in their lives, the current running through the work is an uncertainty that speaks even more eloquently now that it is so deep felt.

Many productions sought to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. Watching them, one is reminded of how delicate the process is, how easily it can slip into cliché and even downright offence. Eagling manages to avoid all those pitfalls, and pulls off the tricky exercise of a self-referential subject into the bargain.

Alessia Lugoboni as Marie Rambert and Alexander Nuttall as Ashley Dukes in RemembrancePhoto Deborah Jaffe
Alessia Lugoboni as Marie Rambert and Alexander Nuttall as Ashley Dukes in Remembrance
Photo Deborah Jaffe

Remembrance shows a familiar figure from dance, the monumental Marie Rambert, from an unfamiliar angle. Alessia Lugoboni in the eponymous lead is dramatically self-possessed, her face as expressive as her pliant body. Eagling takes her subtly from a confident young woman wooing her lover in Astafieva’s famous London studio to a new bride, mired in the emotional precariousness of wartime London, every passing soldier seeming to be her lover, every nightmare the possibility that he would not survive the conflict.

The delicate intricacies of the double work are perfectly complemented by Eagling and librettist Greg Billingsley’s choice of Handel’s Ode for St Cecelia’s Day. Dryden’s libretto has so many germane stanzas that it seems incredible. “The trumpet’s loud clangour excites us to arms with shrill notes of anger and mortal alarms. The double double double beat of the thund’ring drum cries, hark the foes come; charge, charge, ’tis too late to retreat” accompanies the departing soldiers. The “depth of pains and height of passion” pass across the lovers’ faces as they dance and then are reflected in Rambert’s lonely vigil, imagining herself at once in the company of the all-too-common war widows whilst recollecting the all-too-brief period between her marriage and husband Ashley Duke’s call up.

When death once again separates and threatens to separate lovers across the globe, Remembrance provides us with a lesson from the past, a mirror of our fears and the hope that one day, all will again return to the predictable and familiar.

New English Ballet Theatre in Remembrance by Wayne EaglingPhoto Deborah Jaffe
New English Ballet Theatre in Remembrance by Wayne Eagling
Photo Deborah Jaffe

The performance of Remembrance is followed by a short documentary looking at the making of the ballet. In it, Eagling explains how it was created from a pas de deux that he made several years ago. He describes how it “shifted around somewhat” as it moved from an original idea about the anguish of those left behind when loved ones go off to war,  to incorporating the Marie Rambert and Ashley Dukes story. He is at pains to point out that it is not a biography and that she is representative of all women in that situation, however.

As we see Eagling working in the studio, he talks about how he likes to draw dancers into the creative process, making it a true collaboration. Along the way, he pays tribute to Kenneth MacMillan’s method of similarly involving dancers in the creation, with them, building on a basic framework.

Costume designer April Dalton describes her process and how her choice of fabrics was dictated by the needs of the dance, in particular how they needed to be light and stretchable but simultaneously give the impression of the heavier materials of the time. Designs were created after the choreography began so that Dalton could observe the dancers in motion.

The documentary incorporates Aidan Dun’s An Armoured Inkwell, a poem created for and recited at the première, which references the letters that Dukes wrote to Rambert during his courtship and time in service. Dun is Rambert’s grandson.

New English Ballet Theatre in Wayne Eagling’s Remembrance is free to view on YouTube until December 15, 2020.

Having watched the ballet and the ‘making of’ film, I also enjoyed a further documentary about Marie Rambert by Aidan Dun, in which he talks at length about his grandmother, giving a very personal insight into her life, from early days in Poland to her later life when he joined her in London in the 1960s.