Review – Aisha and Abhaya, Rambert Dance Company, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 18th January 2022

Aisha and AbhayaIt’s been a very long time since we’ve seen some dance and we always jump at the chance to watch Rambert, one of the best Contemporary Dance companies around, with a massive reputation for excellence and innovation – always a pleasure, often a challenge.

With their latest production, Aisha and Abhaya, it was all challenge and not much pleasure. Pre-show marketing explained that this was a combination of dance and multimedia video, which can be a very heady mix when it dovetails beautifully. It can also enthral when the one creates a fascinating tangent from the other. However, in this show, both Mrs Chrisparkle and I failed to see the remotest connection between the live action and Kibwe Tavares’ video story of the two sisters – princesses, maybe? – attacked and refugeed, trying to survive in an alien environment. Mrs C was shocked by the violence in the video; but then again, refugees often have a violent story to tell.

Much more successful was the video backdrop to the live action, which took us through endless mysterious corridors, leading out into an abstract cityscape, and finally a nightmare dance scenario where identical figures fill the screen all dancing to the same movements. That was genuinely spectacular. However, if you were expecting a furiously frenetic, visually and musically exciting finale to the show – you’ll be disappointed, it ends with definitely a whimper rather than a bang. Several long seconds of an audience staring in silence at a blank stage with one thought between them – is that it?

The show, which fractionally exceeds one hour’s length, started at 7.30pm and it was 7.48 by my watch before we saw any live action – which, for a dance show, I have to say did try our patience somewhat. And when the dance started, whilst there’s absolutely no doubting the extraordinary skill and strength of the group of seven dancers, Sharon Eyal’s unattractive choreography had an alienating effect on me, with the dancers’ body spasms and jerks reminding one of one’s worst ever attack of gastroenteritis. To be fair, the second, shorter, dance scene towards the end of the show had more traditional, graceful movement and felt much more rewarding.

This is a joint production between Rambert and The Royal Ballet; and I have read that the first audiences at the Linbury Theatre were offered earplugs to protect them from the loud and relentless techno music by Ori Lichtik and GAIKA. In fact, the music was driving, pulsating and inspiring, to the extent that the show was probably more entertaining on the audio side than the visual. Sadly, for the performance on Tuesday night at the Royal and Derngate, there was no programme; and Rambert’s website unusually gives no information on which dancers were performing. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to identify them, which I think is a disservice to them. They were all excellent, no question.

Occasionally the harsh critic, Mrs C’s observation at the end was that it had all the charm and appeal of a rave at 10 Downing Street. For me, being able to watch top class (if nameless) dancers perform their hearts and souls out means I enjoyed it more than she did. But at £33.50 for top price seats to see, what, 35 minutes of live action maybe, I thought the price was a bit steep. I guess videography is expensive. Rambert are currently announcing their 2023 production of a dance version of Peaky Blinders – fingers crossed that it’s more en pointe.

Production photos are not mine, but taken from the Royal and Derngate website.