FringeReview UK 2018
Ballet Rambert produce two ballets, to envelop their guests Julie Cunningham’s company. In Symbiosis Ilan Eshkeri threads a four-point narrative of creation, choreographed by Adonis Foniodakis. Tassos Sofroniou’s elegant costumes suddenly take on ghost blue diaphanous material, and Sakis Birbilis’ lighting.
Julie Cunningham’s choreography for To Be Me involves The Beigeness that dominates but the words of Kate Tempest
In Goat, Yahani Perinpanayagam’s arrangement of Nina Simeone segues in and out of Ben Duke’s choreography in goat, the hour-long apotheosis of this dance night.
Three ballets in this fleet and ferocious set deliver something extraordinary at the Theatre Royal, Brighton leg of their tour by Ballet Rambert and their guests in the second ballet, Julie Cunningham & Company, a quartet of dancers.
They’re wholly different too. Symbiosis, with a band delivering quiet post-Romantic music with minimalist strings by Ilan Eshkeri threads a four-point narrative of creation in Symbiosis, choreographed by Adonis Foniodakis. It’s classic Rambert concept ballet as the fifteen dancers snake and twine like unravelling chords along dance-lines through a time-warp. Tassos Sofroniou’s elegant costumes suddenly take on ghost blue diaphanous material, and Sakis Birbilis’ lighting plays like a day of sun over the grille set, as Andy Latham’s set is a kind of old wireless grille with a bow-shape punched in the middle, behind which Liam Francis lurks ready to spring in as a kind of Adam. One’s reminded here of a couple of ballets, Milhaud’s La Création du Monde and more closely Bliss’s Adam Zero from 1946 which pull-through narrative more suits the analogy. But as with much modern ballet there’s multiple narrative and dissolves, so no one lineage gets distilled; it doesn’t matter.
The multifarious elements of Foniadakis’ choreography run like sinews of water through the troupe as they enact after The Heart of the Creation, The Spirituality of the Individual, and then a ferocious far more angular sequence in The Hectic and the Violent third, where brass finally comes into its own with the small chamber orchestra directed by Paul Hoskins moves from the previous minimalist string-bursts to another post-Romantic apotheosis, quite gently musically, but not balletically. A Kind of Prayer where the resulting crisis of energies dissipates is also quite magical.
To Be Me
Changing sex like Tiresias is as seductive a ballet subject as it is treacherous. The greatest attempt, by Constant Lambert in 1951 had his darkly scored full-length piece narrative choreographed and danced by Robert Helpman and in the second act Lambert’s ex lover Margot Fonteyn who created an extraordinary intensity for several years dancing as Tiresias as woman (before Helpman re-emerges). It got panned and killed Lambert.
No through-line here, in Julie Cunningham’s thirty-minute piece. There’s virtually no sense of Tiresias either, just an alignment of yin and yang, as the dancers finally meld with their opposite numbers.
Four dancers enact a twining of tall and slight dancers pitted against each other who finally integrate. But it’s not so much the music of The Beigeness that dominates but the words of Kate Tempest. On the face of it, Romford rap isn’t a bad idea. Tempest can be variable in her inspiration, gathering an occasional memorable image and emoting certain elements of her pre-recorded voice with singing, a but like sprachspiel, though not as gritty or powerful. It’s easy for some in both the poetry world as well as ballet to pan Tempest too, but this would be wrong-headed. The idea’s good. It’s just that you either wish to listen or watch. There needs to be far finer integration of aesthetic here, bursts of words and dance, and not so literally enacted – though again there’s an obvious pull to integrate and perform that.
I think the trouble is that this ballet with its striking mirror opening (a jagged triangle of light answering another, dancers edged into it) isn’t compelled. The lines are uninvolved and to easily broken up with having to pause t develop a momentum free of words. Things are like tempest can be, earthbound. The script isn’t that bad, though not her finest. There are patches of memorable speech. But as the next speech shows, it’s better to incubate until something’s absolutely compelled or torn out of you. This is, at the moment, a little too made. But it’s brave, and Cunningham’s company dance very well. Something jagged and powerful might well arise from such combinations and aesthetic sooner than you’d think.
Rambert’s road show where ben Duke’s choreography includes a comic warm-up where the dancers tell an MC they’re not ready, is something else. We’re here in high comedy high concept and indeed high camp jokes. When the dancers of Goat, a Sussex ritual we’re told, finally start limbering up the irritating MC with his cameraman videoing close-up what we already see asks questions to which we already know the answers then repeats them. It’s great fun building up irritation this way, and when the answers come ‘it’ about the stigma of addiction’ ‘injustice’ ‘betrayal’ you feel insidiously as if you’ve stepped straight into rehearsal, as if we’ve got here an exo-skeletal or inverse x-ray of proceedings.
It’s nothing like that. Suddenly to Nina Simeon’s music sung by Nia Lynn with excoriating seriousness after all, arranged on stage with a drumkit band by Yahani Perinpanayagam who plays piano too, we’re somewhere else. In another ballet to start with. The rite of Spring. It’s exactly that, a young man not woman is to dance himself to death to propitiate the spring, and the Nijinsky choreography is referenced as a blindfolded woman picks him out. There’s also a wonderful rant by Brenda Lee Grech who explodes with a furious tirade.
The dancer Lam Francis enters into a frenzy circled by the originally dance-hall 1950s clad populace now svelte and menacing in their costumes. Hannah Rudd (I think) joins him after he’s dead, laments – indeed maes a speech, another brilliant disjunctive – and they suddenly resurrect and dance together. Finally, the MC takes Francis; death upon himself, and lies there in his clothes.
Al the time Lynn sings a variety of Simone hits, including ‘Felling Good’ ‘I Got Life’ ‘My Way’ from Sinatra, ‘the ballad of Hollis Brown’ and finally shatteringly ‘feelings’ as the couple explore their demise and resurrection.
The theatre of this, its apotheosis into something else from its comedic opening, is stunning. It’s what the Rambert does; completely reinvent itself and the dance. this and the earlier ballet are outstanding in themselves. The Cunningham company are lucky to learn from them.