Ben Duke’s darkly delicious Cerberus leads Rambert’s latest mixed bill

Sadler’s Wells, London
May 18, 2022

It was a treat to see Rambert back on stage, live at Sadler’s Wells, however the programme, three very different works, didn’t come together to create the expected buzz. The many empty seats in the house didn’t help but the audience made up for the low numbers with their high enthusiasm. It was Ben Duke’s Cerberus tucked in the middle and a standout in its very distinctive strangeness that was the highpoint.

Ben Duke is good with endings; which is no bad thing when you are dealing with something as terminal as death. Imitating Greek hero Orpheus, Antonello Sangirardi defies orders and looks back. The rope leading his beloved Euridice, Aishwarya Raut, from the afterlife suddenly slackens. Black out.

Aishwarya Raut in Ben Duke’s Cerberus
Photo Camilla Greenwell

Being Ben Duke there is considerable build up before this moment, much of it loosely tethered to the theme but also a delicious mix of outrageous comedy with some very neat choreography snuck in between. The choreographic pattern is predominantly across stage with an anonymous voice explaining that stage left is life’s departure lounge. The onstage director, Sangirardi, keeps warning: “Don’t go there!” But Raut defies him straining on her rope and fighting furiously. We suspect the worst and when a fellow dancer answers her phone – “she left it to me in her will” – we know she’s done for.

There follows a stream of dancers traversing the stage dressed in a mix of funerary black and fancy frills dancing on the borders of black comedy. The monochrome is briefly broken by a vibrant cerise curtain when onstage percussionist Romarna Campbell takes charge. Duke then diverts the action to a quite different place as sombrely dressed dancers drag bodies over the stage to the strains of Monteverdi’s Lament sung by soprano Rebecca Leggett and classical guitarist George Robinson. Duke plays on our emotions in masterful fashion to disturb and exhilarate in equal measure.

Max Day, Guillaume Queau and Jonathan Wade
in Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream
Photo Camilla Greenwell

The opening number was Eye Candy by the Dutch siblings Imre and Marne van Opstal. It was shown online some months back and has a somewhat different presence on stage. The clever comedy duo has even more punch, the gentle ending with Simone Damberg Würtz is close and personal, but the central idea of untouchable perfection recreated in the plastic male torsos and pert female bosoms that had so much impact on screen, is muted and barely noticeable in the dim lighting.

Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream closed the evening on fleet-footed, full-blooded dance. Technically challenging and rhythmically diverse it demonstrated the quality of the dancers but seemed to belong to a different time and place. Maybe we can blame Covid.