Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London, UK; October 22, 2013     

Jessica Wilson     

Rambert Dance Company in Ashley Page's 'Subterrain'.  Photo © Chris Nash

Rambert Dance Company in Ashley Page’s ‘Subterrain’.
Photo © Chris Nash

Rambert’s latest mixed bill for Sadler’s Wells was certainly that, comprising a variety of works displaying different, and at times opposing, qualities.

The evening opened with the premiere of former Scottish Ballet Director Ashley Page’s “Subterrain”, a work both evocative and unnerving in its approach. Against an impressive set, the dancers prompt questions about what has significance within the world we know. A score made up of ambiguous noises conveys a sense of mystery.

“Subterrain” opens with a duet between two gems of dancers: Dane Hirst and Hannah Rudd. The movement is emphasised by seemingly never ending extensions. It was the most entrancing duet of the piece, although later duets and trios were equally spot-on precise; the seamless flow of movement emphasising the dancers’ facility. The nuances of the pas de deux and floor work are increasingly overtaken by the energy and power of the lifts and balances as the intention behind the work becomes more apparent, which in turn made it most engaging. Page’s choreography also includes plenty of high kicks and deep pliés typical of Rambert. All told, “Subterrain” showed the dancers off in perhaps a more mainstream way than later in the evening, but a pleasing way nonetheless.

The middle work of the evening was Rambert Artistic Director Mark Baldwin’s “The Comedy of Change”, a piece instigated by the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. The dancers emerge from small white encasements looking rather like ethereal clams. It was a bit of a pity they emerged so soon from their hideaways; from their departures alone it was clear there was much movement potential both within and with the white cases that would have extended the ideas of evolution and adaptation even further.

Hirst was again outstanding; springy in his performance, displaying precision and movement which was in part aesthetically pleasing. But the dance did appear awkward at times, particularly when performed in unison. It may simply have seemed that way because unity wasn’t quite achieved, although this too plays to ideas about appearance and how evolution affects it.

Although the work had promise, it was incoherent. Something was just not quite right with it. It did not look completely comfortable, and the dancers could not save it. Too much of the choreography seems two-dimensional and lacks significance. Those parts which don’t are over too soon. It is frustrating that certain sections are pleading for development and further extension. I somehow feel not only that the point of the work has been missed, but that there was little inclination to discover or explore it either.

Rambert Dance Company in Barak Marshall's 'The Castaways'.  Photo © Chris Nash

Rambert Dance Company in Barak Marshall’s ‘The Castaways’.
Photo © Chris Nash

Closing the bill was “The Castaways” by the self-taught, Los Angeles-born choreographer, Barak Marshall. Rambert largely dance non-narrative works, so this came as a refreshing and welcome change. The dancers inhabited roles and the choreography, which included elements of dance theatre, provided a narrative strand. However, whether such works more thoroughly fulfil Rambert’s fairly mainstream contemporary dance audience rather than their regular offerings is arguable.

The opening that included forcefully spoken text from Jon Savage that was followed by sharp, angular movement and gesture held a distinct intensity, raising goosebumps. The choreography has an air of desperation about it. The excellent dancers appeared to be characters urgently trying to escape captivity; a captivity arguably created by their own pitfalls. The choreography itself was essentially simple, making great use of canon, but was equally effective in its expressiveness. The work certainly demonstrated the dancers’ versatility and was thoroughly enjoyable despite the uneasy questions gathering: ‘Why were they there?’ ‘Who was holding them?’ ‘Did they escape?’