Sama – photo from Rambert2

Rambert2 is an offshoot of the renowned Rambert dance company created for a one year tour of young dancers starting their careers at the highest level of modern dance. Artistic Director Benoit Swan Pouffer chose twelve dancers from hundreds auditioned from around the world. They have a more flexible approach than the full company so can perform in more, and sometimes smaller, venues. This brings them this week to Norwich Playhouse where a packed audience can get very close to the three thrilling dance performances on offer.

This young group are given licence to experiment with the medium of dance, and there are many more elements on stage than we might expect from a dance company, with spoken and sung vocals, musicless dance and circus skills in evidence. All these elements combine with superbly fluid and complex choreography that pushes the boundaries of dance and even of human capability.

There are three works, two before the interval. The first, Terms and Conditions, reflects the experience of this group of dancers who are new to professional work and learning the terms and conditions of the dance business as they work. It has the feel of a piece that has emerged from rehearsal workouts, and indeed the choreographer Jermaine Maurice Spivey confirms the input of the dancers themselves to his finished work. It has an odd staccato vocal soundtrack from the dancers themselves, reminding me of the call and response format that pops up in many things from improvised comedy to country dance. It gets steadily more complex as it proceeds, warming up both dancers and audience to the delights ahead. The dancers wear what look like grey boiler suits with a circular window on the back, these ‘windows’ are detached and worn as anonymising masks for a later part of the dance rendering the six on stage as rather faceless automata in what seems to me a fascinating comment on the role of the dancer at the hands of their choreographer. There are robotic and repetitive elements to this work that will annoy some, but for me it is a breathlessly positive exploration of how innovative dance can be.
The second work, Sin, is choreographed by Damien Jalet and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui for just two dancers. This is one of the most sensual and startling dances I have ever seen performed. The male dancer Prince Lyons is seen at the start with some waist-up only movement making shapes and moves mostly just with his hands. Suddenly there are two more hands on him, from female dancer Minouche Van de Ven. Equally suddenly they are writhing over, under and around each other in close movements that could be seen either as harming and hating or loving and soothing each other, but all at a dizzying pace of movement set to a distinctive vocal and drum soundtrack with a North African feel to it. At times it is hard to tell whether they are attacking each other, or attacking themselves and after a while Lyons drops apparently lifeless to the floor while Van de Ven becomes ever more frenetic and tries to throw him back into life. At the climax she collapses on top of him, prone like exhausted lovers, her breath rasping harshly from the exertion as the work ends. Phew.

The third piece, Sama, sees eleven of the twelve strong company in a dance choreographed by Andrea Miller. This work starts with an Eastern feel, orange hue costumes and a kind of trance feel, but gets progressively more diverse and energetic as it goes on. The company are endlessly impressive, with movements more akin to circus than dance from some. There are dancers on stilts, a perilous procedure on a smallish stage, and many humorous and diverting moments in a work that overall just keeps building to a climax. There are some oddities and annoyances too. The work has a false end, where everyone applauds with due intensity, then there is a little epilogue (more stilts) to send us home a bit calmer. Given that a large part of the audience are in the cataract generation (over 50) the lighting at some points is just bloody annoying, obscuring any chance to follow what is happening. At the start there is excessive theatrical smoke, which my lungs never want to suffer again, and minimal lighting including too much fierce backlighting. Lighting designer Paul Keogan please take note – this means that half your paying audience just cannot see what is happening. It is frustrating as the whole piece is an impressive work that is worth seeing all of, and the young dancers deserve better. There are dance moves that you might see at some kind of rave or crazy festival, but with a co-ordinated precision never displayed in those events. This company are beyond good. Let them be seen.

Overall this is as memorable an evening of dance as you will find, and I hope that the Rambert2 formula develops and thrives. Every name on the company list is now one to watch as the intense selection, rehearsal and production procedure extracts the very best from these talented young people. There are too few companies producing good modern dance but I hope that some of those we saw on stage tonight will be the innovators and creators of a new wave of dance performance. They have the skills, just get them the audiences. A deep gratitude to Rambert for bringing this about was shared by everyone in the Playhouse Theatre for this remarkable event.

© Julian Swainson 2020


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Rambert2 are touring – look them up and get tickets if you can.