Rambert Dance Company

November 22, 2011

Sadler’s Wells Theatre
London, England

November 15–19, 2011

Performance reviewed: Nov. 15

Celebrating its 85th anniversary year, the Rambert Dance Company arrived recently in London with two new works, one unsuitable for adults, the other unsuitable for anyone else. Neither relied solely on its choreography to make its point. Both needed considerable editing. Both provoked fervent cheers, but beneath the applause I heard Marie Rambert, the company’s revered founder, spinning in her grave.


Mark Baldwin, the present artistic director, titled his Seven for a secret, never to be told after a nursery rhyme about magpies that Nicola Clayton, the troupe’s “scientist in residence,” explained in a lengthy program note. Attempting to illuminate children’s psychological development, also explained by Clayton, who is a Cambridge professor of Comparative Cognition, Baldwin crafted 15 slight vignettes to orchestral selections from Ravel’s fantastic opera L’enfant et les sortilèges.


Every imaginable cliché of childish behavior took its turn onstage. Dressed in cotton playdresses or shorts, the 10 dancers leapfrogged and cartwheeled, held pillowfights, imitated butterflies, threw temper tantrums, and organized a tea party for their dolls. They indicated hopscotch without the chalked floor pattern. They jumped rope without the rope.


Like children’s games, the vignettes followed each other in apparently random order, linked neither to individual characters nor to the accompanying music. Dancers ran on, ran off, skipped, squabbled, kicked up their heels, flapped their arms and finally collapsed onto their pillows, exhausted from all that playing. In Britain, the descriptive term for this insistent cuteness is “twee,” a word that echoed through the audience during intermission.


If Baldwin went to one choreographic extreme, infantalizing an adult art to engage those people who are not particularly interested or educated in dance, then Javier de Frutos went to the opposite extreme with Elysian Fields, a steamy tribute to Tennessee Williams’ sensual, poetic imagination.


This time the dancers provided the explanations, repeatedly reciting a passage from A Streetcar Named Desire as they hurled themselves at one another, gasping with the force of their passion or fury. Leaving narrative aside, de Frutos explores a single aspect of Williams’ many characters by maneuvering all 11 performers into a constantly changing kaleidescope of emotional excess.


Wrapping the action in mean, moody blues, hot horns supported by whispering drum riffs, Alex North’s music for the 1951 movie of Streetcar reenforces the inescapable tension of crisscrossed relationships. Filagreed iron chairs, some tiny, some oversize, fringe the circular outline that confines the desperate lovers’ steps, never releasing them from their futile search for tender understanding.


In the program notes, De Frutos commented that he involved a dialect coach “to help them move with a Southern accent”; he also enlisted a fight director to orchestrate the graphic violence of their sexual encounters. Despite its length, wearying repetition, and a level of brutality that scared some viewers away, Elysian Fields is less aggressively provocative and more sympathetic than many of his recent works. Judicious cutting might sharpen its focus without compromising its impact.


Photo: Dane Hurst in Mark Baldwin’s
Seven for a secret, never to be told. By Hugo Glendinning, courtesy Rambert.