A Linha Curva 3 (c) Chris Nash
On 6 October, Britain’s oldest dance company, one with a background in both classical ballet and contemporary dance, returns to the Theatre Royal.
Rambert bring 28 dancers and a live orchestra to perform the riotous, samba-inspired A Linha Curva, plus other works. Alex Dalgleish went to meet Rambert’s Artistic Director Mark Baldwin, to find out what Norwich can expect from their visit.
This year marks the 90th birthday of the venerable dance company. It began as the Ballet Rambert in 1926, founded by formidable French dancer Marie Rambert, before taking dance into factories and workplace canteens around the country. It now stands as one of the most cutting-edge companies around, the place where choreographers like Frederick Ashton and Anthony Tudor got their foot in the door.
The company is based in a sparkling new glass and concrete studio complex on London’s South Bank, directly behind the massive edifice of the National Theatre. But Artistic Director Mark Baldwin believes that, in its 90th year, the company’s long history is as important as ever. “The thing is, you can’t teach yourself; probably the worst teacher I ever had was myself. Younger choreographers need other works they can look at, that they can use as an example to embrace or reject, that they can abuse or yank apart”.
Below street level, the building features an extensive archive, housing everything from worn ballet pumps to theatre programmes, including a few from the company’s visits to Norwich. Also housed in the archive is footage of every dance the company presents, some of it still stored on old canisters of 9mm film reel.
“Because we have this archive to work from, the dancers themselves embody 90 years of history, because they’re constantly going back and forth along that timeline. That puts them in a really unique position. So when we come to Norwich, just be aware that you’re watching a company that is absolutely unique in the world, a company that has this incredible history.”
That, explains Mark, works in the company’s favour when it comes to putting together their programme. “It means that we can bring brand new works like Tomorrow, we can bring historic pieces of music like Transfigured Night, and we can bring A Linha Curva, which has become a very popular piece of work and is now studied in schools – and those pieces are specially put together for Norwich.”
That dance, A Linha Curva, will bring a taste of South America to the Norwich stage, but it’s a little more international than that: “It was developed in Brazil by a good friend of mine called Itzik Galili, who’s a brilliant choreographer. The music’s actually by a Dutch group, but they use all the instruments that you’d hear in Brazil, and the whole thing is an enormous samba – it’s like a great big carnival. Basically, it’s a celebration of Brazilian culture. The dancers don’t wear much, as if it’s very hot, and the dance is made with very low-down movements, as if they were doing samba or salsa. You’ve got this amazing percussion score – it’s very, very infectious. It’s probably one of our most popular works at the moment; you’ll come out dancing!”
Alongside A Linha Curva, audiences will experience Lucy Guering’s Tomorrow, a journey inside the dark and dangerous world of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. “What’s fantastic about Lucy’s dance version of Macbeth is that she choreographed the play which was down the road at the Young Vic. The piece is like watching a film, because on one side of the stage, you’ve got dancers being witches, and on the other side you’re watching the play itself, which she runs backwards. They really feed into each other beautifully”.
The music for Tomorrow is by Robert Rimbaud, a DJ who goes by the stage name Scanner. This is, perhaps, a slightly unexpected choice for a dance company taking on Shakespeare, and I ask Mark how he feels dance can work together with other art forms. “I think that collaboration is a huge thing for us. Music is our best friend; we’ll be bringing our own orchestra to Norwich, so there’ll be no-one pressing play on a CD. But also, each of these works has been designed: you’re getting someone coming in to do the costumes, other people to do the lighting and the set.
“Actually, Madame Rambert was in the Ballets Russes, and the idea of collaboration was alive back then, that you introduce a choreographer to a designer, and that, working together, those people can deliver something much more powerful than they could working individually. So yes, collaboration is the key for us, because – ok, we need dancers, but we need people who can dress them, people who can light them, who can put them in a situation so that you, the audience, you can enjoy that.”
The Norwich leg of Rambert’s tour rounds out with Kim Brandstrup’s Transfigured Night. Based around a score by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, born in 1874, it taps into precisely that history that Mark is so passionate about. It tells the story of two lovers meeting by moonlight, and the dark secret that threatens to tear them apart. It’s important, Mark thinks, because the programme being performed here next month is designed to appeal to young people (whether that’s GCSE piece A Linha Curva, or Tomorrow’s treatment of teachers’ favourite Macbeth). “It’s important that Rambert keeps reaching out,” he says. “As we tour up and down the country, we teach young people about dance. And with that comes music education, hearing something like a classical piece, or hearing something brand new.”
So, it’s a full programme for Rambert’s visit next month. But what can Norwich expect in the future? “We’ve been coming to Norwich since, I think, 1929 [he’s right; Marie Rambert herself performed a set of ‘character dances’ at the Maddermarket in the February of that year]. Some people will remember us as the Ballet Rambert, some as Rambert Dance Company, and now we’re just Rambert.
“We love coming to Norwich, and I’m determined that next time we come, we do a festival where we’re using local talent and local dancers. We’re not here just to visit Norwich and say ’hey guys, this is what we do in London’, it’s a chance to exchange culture. We want the people of Norwich to get to know us – and us them – so we can build a future together.”
That process continues at Norwich Theatre Royal next month. Rambert may be turning 90, but the drive and ambition that got it to this point is clearly still strong.
Rambert, Thursday 6-Friday 7 October at 7.30pm, and Friday matinee (A Linha Curva and Transfigured Night only plus an introduction by Rambert’s artistic director Mark Baldwin) at 1.30pm. Tickets £7-£24. Discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, Over-60s, Under-25s, Schools and Groups. Pre-show talk on Thurs 6 Oct at 6.30pm in the Targetfollow Room. Free tickets for the talk can be booked in advance from the Box Office.
To book, call the box office on 01603 630000 or log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk