New Movement Collective: Les Noces – The Departure

Woolwich Works, London
January 13, 2024

Just over a century after Igor Stravinsky and Bronislava Nijinska came together to craft Les Noces, a story of a forced marriage that ends the bride’s innocence. The full title of the New Movement Collective’s wonderfully enthralling evening, Les Noces – The Departure, is apt. It’s not only a celebration of the original but very much the setting out point for the show’s four new creations, each of which cleverly runs into the next without pause.

The two danced works take place on a catwalk-style stage that runs the length of the hall but the evening opens with music. Contemporary and film music composer Andrea Balency-Béarn’s Appels is an evocative composition for four pianos, seven percussionists and electronics. It contains occasional bell-like sounds although I tended to hear more the clang of machinery in between drums that grumble and roar. It fitted the venue perfectly.

New Movement Collective in Les Noces
Photo ASH

As Appels dies away in the hushed space, baritone Ross Ramgobin takes centre-stage singing Yshani Perinpanayagam’s Cage Letters, a setting of three of John Cage’s love letters to Merce Cunningham. It has less immediate connection to Les Noces, although it’s during it that the New Movement Collective dancers slowly gather. As they fold and carefully place the cream jackets they carry, there’s a strong sense of assembling for a ritual.

The new Les Noces choreography, very much collaborative, embodies Stravinsky’s music absolutely. Nothing feels wasted. There’s a powerful sense of direction of travel. Everything has meaning and purpose, even if the viewer is very much left to decipher what they see in their own way, to make their own connections, to feel their own emotions.

New Movement Collective in Les Noces
Photo ASH

Performed in the composer’s original setting for pianos and percussions, the musicians from the Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music and dancers are joined by singers from the Opera Holland Park Chorus.

Relationships and commitment are never far away. Although most of the dancers have strong connections to Rambert, each brings something different to the table. But while New Movement Collective’s Les Noces is a dance of different styles on different bodies (very unlike the Nijinska choreography), it comes together beautifully as a cohesive whole.

It is very much a dance of community. There are moments when one movement seems to cause a chain reaction. There is an occasional sense of ritual, the cast suddenly moving in two formal lines that pass through each other or in unison. But, from time to time, dancers, most often one of the women, perform what seem to be unwilling solos. It’s as if they have been selected. As they move, they appear to be railing against something or someone, especially when they are surrounded by the others. Of all of them, one by Fukiko Takase, full of gestures, turns, falls and rolls, stands out. But always, always it flows.

New Movement Collective in Les Noces at Woolwich Works
Photo ASH

There’s clever use of those jackets too. They are tied in a line, are used as a rope to bind one of the women, and are formed into a bridal veil and train worn by Estela Merlos, who walks slowly through the throng, not so much on her way to a happy wedding you feel as towards something altogether more despairing.

As the Stravinsky fades away to be replaced with birdsong, it feels like a rebirth. A new dawn. That final smooth transition takes the audience into Rhythmic Resurgence, a final choreographic exploration of the themes of Les Noces by Manchester-based Company Chameleon’s Chameleon Youth (English National Ballet’s ENBYouthCo on the show’s second day), with music by Beatbox Champion MC Zani, performed by Jack Hobbs.

New Movement Collective’s Les Noces
Photo ASH

Choreographed by Gemma Nixon and Juliana Javier in collaboration with the dancers, connections to what went before are never far away. The dance pulses like a heartbeat. The same idea of community, of lines, of dancers breaking away and blending back in are all there.

A word on the venue. The Fireworks Factory is a new flexible performance space able to seat up to 800 (1,200 standing), although the capacity was much lower on this evening. It is glorious. Now part of Woolwich Works, the conversion from Ministry of Defence use has been very sympathetically done with all the necessary high-level additions, new ducting, lighting rigs and so on, carefully blended in to the original fabric of the building. And what fabric. The light and airy hall’s original exposed brickwork and slender, white-painted cast iron pillars and roof trusses, retained during its conversion, are beautiful. The acoustics sounded pretty good too. It’s a fine addition to London’s cultural scene.

It’s been over three years but it’s good to have New Movement Collective back, and doing what they do best: producing fabulous cross-disciplinary work in innovative ways, in different spaces. Les Noces was only on for two days at Woolwich, but it deserves to be seen more widely. Maybe it will pop up at festivals. One can but hope.