The appeal of booking to see this programme by Rambert could be summed up in four words – The Return of Rooster! My fantasy contemporary dance show programme would be a night of Christopher Bruce works – in this order, Swansong, Ghost Dances and then Rooster. I can remember seeing Rooster several times, at High Wycombe and Oxford – but a trawl through my programme collection came up with just one occasion – October 1995 in Wycombe, with a fantastic cast that included Christopher Powney (now Artistic Director of the Royal Ballet School), Marie Laure Agrapart (who now has her own dance company in France, and with whom I was in love, sadly she didn’t know it), Paul Liburd (now teaching at the London Studio Centre) and Vincent Redmon (not sure what he’s doing now).
There was a time – about when Mark Baldwin took over as Artistic Director – that I felt Rambert slightly lost its way. We kept faith with them, and went to see them whenever we could, but sometimes the dance skills were not as great as in the 80s and 90s. I don’t attribute this to Mr Baldwin – he’s a great choreographer and we used to love seeing his own dance company’s productions at that time. Maybe they just got the Millennium Bug. That’s when Richard Alston’s company really took over for me as being the company You Just Had To See.
But I’m delighted to say that Rambert were on top form with this mixed programme of old favourites, and although there has been some criticism that Rambert are rehashing old stuff and not creating new work – which may be a justified observation – there’s no doubting that Sadler’s Wells was packed to the rafters with a very enthusiastic audience last Saturday night. The first piece was Lucinda Childs’ Four Elements, first performed by Rambert in 1990, her work rarely seen in the UK. Each of the four elements makes up each of the four sections of the dance, so I’m not quite sure why some people were so confused as to when it was all over, applauding when only a couple of the elements had been completed – cue for my pompous disapproval of people applauding too early. Mrs Chrisparkle rather appreciates it when people applaud early, as it shows that the audience are really enjoying it and can’t contain their enthusiasm. She’s much more charitable than me.
Four Elements is visually spectacular, with costumes representing dominos, playing cards, a skeleton and – I think – picnic blankets, reflecting similar designs in the backdrops behind the dancers. Water, the first section, had all the dancers together in a series of movements that left me in mind of Olympic gymnasts performing the Floor Exercise. The second section, Earth, had just the women dancers performing largely the same kind of movements as in the first part. The third section was Air, just men this time, randomly entering the stage from the wings individually, each with a mixed up sequence of small leaps, large leaps and skips. If the first scene was the Floor Exercise, this was the Triple Jump. It was entertaining to watch, but it wasn’t until the last scene – Fire – that the whole dance worked for me, which brought together the three previous elements combined with the dancers dancing together for some of the time, but definitely solos at the end. All in all, it was an enjoyable piece, if ever so slightly soporific to watch.
After the first interval it was time for Rooster. I was really surprised to find they hadn’t scheduled it to end the evening. Performed to a soundtrack of great Rolling Stones hits, it’s a satirical look at the chauvinistic 1960s male, how he preens and panders to himself, how he mistreats women, and how he often doesn’t get the upper hand. It’s a wonderful combination of humour, colour, sex and Christopher Bruce’s inimitable choreography and it always makes me whoop with joy.
The characters aren’t named but there’s a “lead rooster” who is the first to pose slowly into place, and he seems to be in charge of the rest of the guys. He was danced by Miguel Altunaga and he is absolutely brilliant. He starts off the “Little Red Rooster” sequence and also features in some other numbers, notably “Sympathy for the Devil” at the end. Particular highlights for me were a spectacular “Paint it Black” with a fantastic performance by Dane Hurst and a fabulous trio of menacing girls danced by Hannah Rudd, Carolyn Bolton and Patricia Okenwa; a beautiful Ruby Tuesday with a very sensuous and wistful performance by Antonette Dayrit; and – always a pleasure – a superb duel/duet between Vanessa Kang and Adam Blyde (I think) in “Play with Fire”, where the lavish red boa inevitably takes on a life of its own.
Christopher Bruce has re-staged it slightly and brought the choreography up to date in a few places – I noticed the three Paint It Black girls in the finale adding a disco element to their dancing; and Dane Hurst did a bit of “shootin’ from the hip” gun action during one of his routines. Both of these were enjoyable additions. If I had any criticisms it would be that the guys who have to catch Ruby Tuesday in their arms and then toss her in the air like a pancake slightly telegraphed their moves so that they were visibly static in place to receive her long before it was necessary – a slight distraction, I felt. I also thought the performance of “Not Fade Away” was a little less manic than I remember it, which slightly reduced its impact. But these are very minor quibbles on what always has been and remains one of the most exhilarating 25 minutes of dance you can ever hope to see.
Another interval took us into Dutiful Ducks, a short male solo choreographed by Richard Alston and danced superbly by Dane Hurst to a backing track of a nonsensical jumbling up of alliterative words. It’s fun – but it’s only a curtain raiser to the final substantial piece, Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance. Here we have another alienating soundtrack, a scribble of noises that partly resemble that teeth-on-edge scraping chalk on a blackboard sound, the amplified crumpling of crisp packets and a severe drain clearance problem. It’s extremely disconcerting to listen to, but the accompanying dance is as beautiful and as eloquent as you could wish for. If you removed the scribble and replaced it with, say, a Brandenburg Concerto, the dance and the music would intertwine beautifully. It’s the juxtaposition between the formal elegance of the dance and the modern racket that gives this piece great force and energy. Very crisp and accurate footwork, it showed the company at its absolute best. I would still have preferred the evening to end with Rooster though. The applause at the end of Rooster way surpassed that at the end of Sounddance. Maybe we were all Rooster fans, returned for a Rooster reunion. It kind of felt like it. Nevertheless it was a great evening of dance and we all loved it.
P. S. Interesting theatre etiquette issue. As we were all taking our seats at the beginning of the evening, a lady (not very tall) and a gentleman (average height) went to sit in the row in front of me and the lady to my right. The lady went to sit in front of me, the gentleman went to sit in front of the lady to my side. Their bottoms had barely touched the padding when the lady to my right interrupted them and very firmly asked them if they would swap sides so that the lady was in front of her and the gentleman was in front of me. That way she would see the stage better. The lady in front had no problem in changing sides. However, this meant that I got the bigger bloke in front of me – and as I hadn’t been party to the arrangements I got a bit narked by this. So I said “actually, I preferred it the way it was”, to which the lady to my right, who hadn’t looked at me at all yet, said “but you’re much taller so it won’t affect you”. She had no idea if I was tall or short to be honest. I said that I would bob my head around and try to see past him. As it happened, it didn’t really inconvenience me, but I did rather resent how she went about it. She should have said to the people in front, “would you mind swapping sides so that I can see better”, and then turn to me and say, “that is, if that’s ok with you?” To which I would have said, of course that was no problem. But instead she decided that she was going to saddle me with the bigger bloke and that was that. Mrs C thinks I’m starting to get very cantankerous in my old age.