Next Generation Festival: Rambert School

Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
June 23, 2023

What has been a very enjoyable showcase season, the Next Generation Festival at The Royal Opera House rounded off with the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in a programme of six new pieces performed by the third-years, alongside two award-winning works by noted choreographers danced by the second-years. Although most of the pieces provided for moments of individuality, the focus was very much on the ensemble.

Using her signature choreographic language of bharatanatyam and contemporary dance, Seeta Patel’s new Lost in a Crowd, set to music by Henryk Gorecki, sets the individual versus the collective. The feeling often tends to be rather more ‘against the crowd,’ however. With the third-year dancers in black, sleeveless hoodies, mostly with hoods up, it frequently takes on a threatening air too. Several times, one dancer emerges from the group. Although that person does push back, as the crowd advance aggressively, it’s difficult not to see the piece as a commentary on the power of peer pressure and where succumbing to it might lead.

Rambert School dancers in Lost in a Crowd by Seeta Patel
Photo Chris Nash

In an excerpt from Wayne McGregor’s high-tempo, all-action Entity, the second-years captured well its uncompromising nature. The work may now be fifteen years old, but the young dancers made it look fresh off the shelf. The partnering was excellent, although the opening pas de deux with Eliana Hayward and Noah Cooper, stood out.

The second-years later returned for extracts from Russell Maliphant’s contrasting Fallen, originally created for the BalletBoyz ten years ago. The title is perfect as the work’s partnering calls for a lot of trust, which it got in spades, as dancers fall into each other’s arms.

Rambert School dancers in Wayne McGregor’s Entity
Photo Chris Nash

It is beautifully crafted. The opening scene of a circle within a circle, the inner group gently moving together while the outer dancer move around them in unison, often on the floor, is quite masterful. It later takes on a sense of unease, the dancers very much on the edge. The central duet was sublimely danced by Daniel Bennett and Tsao Hsuan-yu.

Back with the third-years, former National Ballet of Canada and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet dancer Ana Maria Lucaciu’s Travelling Song starts appropriately with a phrase that travels across a line of dancers stage front. When that line dissolves, the choreography becomes structurally complex, duets and trios appearing and disappearing constantly. The slower closing section to The Fleetwoods’ ‘Unchained Melody’ is especially pleasing.

Rambert School dancers in Fallen by Russell Maliphant
Photo Chris Nash

With its dancers in silver, vaguely astronaut-like body suits with oven mitts as gloves, Billionaires in Space (and don’t come back!) by Rambert School alumni Thick & Tight (Daniel Hay-Gordon and Eleanor Perry) is a disco-ballet look at the modern-day race to colonize space by the rich and those left behind. Delivering such commentary in a mildly amusing way can be a very effective approach, but I was surprisingly unmoved. Perhaps it was too jokey. The miming of the lyrics of the music (‘Moon Rocks’ by Talking Heads) was an unnecessary distraction, and didn’t help.

Geburt (‘birth’ in German) by another Rambert School alumni, Jessica Nupen, was inspired by a Salman Rushdie quote asking how newness comes into the world, and how does it survive. Some of the male costuming certainly hinted at that but, while performed with great commitment, the choreography itself said rather less.

Geburt by Jessica Nupen
Photo Chris Nash

The evening’s best two pieces were saved to the end. Daniel Davidson’s very appealing Dear, I Fear (a vision in pink) is an exploration of the complexities of relationships and ultimate heartbreak that can occur. Taking up that theme, a series of duets and short small group sections sometimes feel edgy. One beautiful, sensuous duet (Serena McCall and Stanley Young) to Jonas Crabtree’s weirdly beautiful ‘Heart of Glass’ remix, which mixes Blondie with Philip Glass, stands out; that couple later joined by two others. Upstage, like a backing group or chorus, a tight group often forms, shifting like kelp waving gently in an underwater current

Although most of the dancers performed in socks, Dear, I Fear also featured the evening’s only sighting of pointe shoes, including worn by Jaimie Shivum Tank. He looked perfectly at home in them too. And while the piece may well have worked fine without pointework, it certainly added an extra layer of interest.

Toyfest by Matsena Productions for the Rambert School
Photo Chris Nash

So to a splash of fun. Completing the programme, Toyfest by Matsena Productions (Kel and Anthony Matsena) sees a group of inanimate characters in a dusty old toy store come to life in a series of wild games. Featuring some very slick physical theatre and dance to music by Aurelie Saada and a remix of ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie and Philip Glass, it’s incredibly inventive.

Things move fast. In every sense of the word. A sort of cross between live video game and cartoon, it features an unseen gamemaster who announces the options, each new game chosen by the participants. That set up neatly allows for different, unconnected scenes, but still within a framework. It has a childlike-innocence. Best is a ‘cops and robbers’ scene that’s full of cartoonery, clowning and a great Keystone Kops-style chase. After things are interrupted by a visit from the caretaker, the final choice is ‘Option 1: Contemporary Dance,’ performed with the dame zest as the rest of the piece. Great fun and a dance to make you smile, Toyfest made for a fine, light, quirky end to what has been a fine festival.