Rambert School: Next Generation

Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
June 16, 2021

I think Rambert School Principal and Artistic Director Amanda Britton spoke for all when she said how happy everyone was to be back performing live after last year’s enforced absence. This performance (dedicated to the memory of Rambert School’s longstanding Patron, Sir Robert Cohan, who died in January this year) was actually the school’s first performance in eighteen months, the second and third-year students featuring in eight works, seven of them brand new. Some of the first creative sessions were via Zoom, never easy, even without its habit of lagging sound behind picture on occasions, before the students returned to studios on March 8, after the winter lockdown. That so much was done in such a short space of time speaks volumes for the students and choreographers.

Richard Alston (Cohan was his first teacher) got things off to a fine start with Altogether, danced by the second-year students to Ravel’s Cinques Melodies Populaires Grecques, and Kaddish, a Hebrew prayer that is part of the service for the dead.

Rambert School in Altogether by Richard Alston
Photo Chris Nash

It’s everything you would expect from Alston. The intensely technical choreography has a gorgeous formality and graciousness. It’s full of lovely lines, with lots of tilt and curve; and, of course, demands superb musicality. It leaves nowhere to hide, not that the excellent second year dancers needed it.

Connor Scott describes How to Leave is a farewell dance that recognises there is no correct way to leave a person or place. The best moments come in the quirkily brilliant opening that sees two third-years side, by side in oversize formal suits, interpreting Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ in a series of idiosyncratic and eccentric gestures, shoulder shrugs and looks, all done with marvellous straight faces.

Hey Honey by Vidya Patel takes inspiration from the social interaction of honeybees. Much reference is made to the bees’ ‘circle dance’ dance in particular, with the opening a closing having the sense of mourning, a nod to how worker bees have a very short lifespan and work themselves to death. The complex and detailed choreography, to original music by Shammi Pithia, and full of references to kathak, was admirably danced by the third-years.

Rambert School in Hey Honey by Vidya Patel
Photo Chris Nash

Jose Agudo’s energetic, 2013-piece, A Thousand Shepherds, was inspired by a two-month sabbatical spent in an ashram in India. Often with a strong sense of ritual, it’s a dance of different moods including celebration, struggle and conflict. The called for fast footwork, often with percussive stamps, was always in perfect time with Vincenzo Lamagna’s music. While it makes great use of ever-changing formations and individuality, there’s no contact between the performers at all. The third-years looked as immersed in it as I was.

Colour and something to put a smile on the face came immediately after the break in Darshan Singh Bhuller’s super Junun (Madness of Love). The slow opening suggests red desert and heat, a sheet of thin plastic across the back giving the effect of a heat haze. But then, take off, and celebratory choreography as rhythmically crisp as the joyous brass and percussion of the accompanying foot-tapping ‘Junun Brass’ by Jonny Greenwood, Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express. The second-year dancers swept on and off and swirled around with ease, also making light work of the lifts and complex patterns. There is a pleasing quieter section, the choreography to the strings of ‘Hu’ suggesting vulnerability, but it soon takes flight again, the dance to the final title track again rattling along at a fair clip. Brilliantly breathless!

Cameron McMillan’s Un(i)Form Sonatas reframes the traditional ballet codes and systems, most obviously by having all the third-year dancers, men and women, initially in black tutu skirts (the women on pointe, the men in socks). But there are more subtle deviations too. Gender and hierarchy is played with to the point where, shoes aside, the work becomes gender-neutral. Particularly impressive are a couple of duets where McMillan almost unnoticed switches the traditional roles, the supported become the supporter and vice-versa.

Rambert School in Junun by Darshan Singh Bhuller
Photo Chris Nash

Danced to violin sonatas by Johann Paul von Westhoff, the work is clearly challenging. Interestingly, it seemed to suit the men best, who looked very strong throughout. Un(i)Form Sonatas could perhaps do with some refining here and there (let’s not forget how quickly it was made) but it’s certainly packed with interest.

The second half continued in excellent vein with A People Sound by Robbie Ordoña, a contemporary meets hip hop fusion that suited the third-years down to the ground. They danced with super-sharp clarity. I’m not sure it shows how ‘communication plays a part in battling ideals embedded in some households and communities’ but, with the dancers often split into two groups of four, there’s frequently a question and answer feel to the choreography.

The enjoyable evening rounded off with Overflow by Monique Jonas. Loosely based on ideas of being like water, the opening moments are full of swirling, flowing movement, it’s actually at its best when it becomes a effervescent, pulsing celebration of dance to music in the final section to the jazzy ‘Castle of My Skin’ by Sons of Kemet. I just wished some of those duets could have been longer.