Having been somewhat starved of some decent dance for a while – the last dance production we saw was way back when – I was very pleased to see that Rambert had decided to include Northampton on its latest tour. They got a pretty good crowd too, so hopefully that might encourage more dance productions locally. We were a little alarmed at the beginning when we saw quite how many young female school-age dance fans were sat all around us in the stalls because – frankly – they don’t always shut up and watch the performance, and they tend to giggle a lot if a bloke wears tight tights. However, our fears were unnecessary as they proved to be attentive, unfidgety, untexting and above all quiet during the performances. So well done to you!
It was a triple bill – Cardoon Club, Awakenings and Monolith. My favoured sequence of seeing a triple bill is: first – the worthy difficult one that’s very moody and intractable; second – the startling but self-explanatory one that leaves you feeling very satisfied; last – the lively, funny, jolly one that’s a crowd-pleaser. If they’d ordered them in that sequence the programme would have been reversed. Not to worry.
There was an awful lot of good about Cardoon Club, but for me it was largely the peripheral stuff. It looked beautiful. The lighting was subtle and elegant. The use of front and back chain curtains was clever and enabled the dancers to change the mood of the piece very easily. The music my Benjamin Pope was terrific. According to the programme they use a Hammond Organ as a way of recreating trendy late 60s and early 70s easy listening, and it works a treat. It’s precisely the kind of music the very young me would have looked at in the record shop under the Studio2Stereo label, probably with a faintly erotic lady dancer on the cover and I would have longed to be able to afford. The costumes were excellent and the artichoke hat, which gets its own mention in the programme, is very amusing. And the dancers really committed to this piece and gave it everything. They were completely spot on.
However, I didn’t really enjoy Henrietta Horn’s choreography much. I felt it started promisingly, but the lengthy second section seemed to me a repetition of a very standard type of choreography – fast walking, arms stretched out in front – and not a lot else. There’s also a section where the dancers suddenly seem to become puppeteers, and reality and artifice mix – I think this should have been funnier than it was. There is also a scene (probably the most enjoyable) where the dancers take endless apparent curtain calls, including a very cheeky section where they do it in reverse – I liked that very much. But then it ended on a damp squib. I found it all unstructured, I could never tell where I was in the piece, there seemed no natural progression from scene to scene. Mrs Chrisparkle, on the other hand, thought it was largely just a piece of fun and that I shouldn’t analyse it too much. She enjoyed it a lot.
The second piece, Awakenings, is inspired by the patients of one Dr Sacks who treated flu sufferers who went on to develop sleepy sickness – encephalitis lethargica. Personally, I was riveted from the start. A fantastic performance from all the dancers – but I particularly liked Jonathan Goddard and Malorzata Dzierzon. They brilliantly recreated the sense of moving and going about daily life and then suddenly becoming frozen. At the post show talk by Mark Baldwin, he explained that each dancer had a case study of one individual patient and portrayed that person’s debility in their dance. I was very taken with the arresting performance of Otis-Cameron Carr as a patient who could only walk in a straight line. The character that Jonathan Goddard adopted was going through all sorts of angst. I was completely convinced by his plight. The opening tableau has all the dancers frozen then gradually coming to life, and is mirrored by the final scene which is identical apart from one dancer spinning in the centre of the stage. Aletta Collins’ choreography is stunning throughout. I thought the whole thing was magic.
I enjoyed it so much that Monolith came as a bit of a disappointment to me. Again the quality of the dance was exceptional – Mrs Chrisparkle and I agreed that the company have pulled themselves up a notch quality-wise since the last time we saw them – and it’s an evocative set with complementary costumes, but I found it all a bit samey. But it got an excellent round of applause so I am perfectly prepared to accept it was probably my fault.
I’d like to give a special mention to Paul Hoskins, the musical director, who we’ve seen come up on stage in his black suit at the end of dances so many times now. He’s been directing the music for Rambert for ages and that’s why he’s so good at his job. This is a very enjoyable programme and Rambert’s dancers in particular are on stonking good form.