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RAMBERT DANCE COMPANY (Hippodrome, until Sat)



Contemporary dance returns to the Hipp, with Rambert's latest production Eternal Light. Terry Wills checks it out.

I have to admit I approached this Rambert Dance Company’s touring production at the Birmingham Hippodrome with a certain degree of curiosity.

Naturally I was aware of their long-standing name and tradition, but as my only previous experience of contemporary dance comes via Matthew Bourne productions of ‘Car Men’, ‘Nutcracker’ and ‘Edward Scissorhands’, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

The first notable difference was the sight of a bare stage. Matthew Bourne utilises stunning visual sets, dancers in flamboyant costumes and familiar music, while the opening scene of Eternal Light takes place on an open stage with subdued lighting.

A beam of overhead light focuses on a single dancer. Lying prone are his fellow dancers who slowly extend one arm into the air.

Set against a myriad of changing colours this sets the scene for innovative dancing perfectly choreographed by Mark Baldwin to the music of composer Don Goodall, and sung by soloists and the choir of Ex Cathedra Academy of vocal music.

The ethos surrounds the realisation that however and whenever people die their memory will live on in the minds of those left behind.

One piece is danced against a background of crystal shaped crosses apparently a reference to those who lost their lives on the bloodstained battlefields of Flanders. Suitably lit in deepest crimson.

Certainly a difficult story to interpret but the beauty is the sheer poetry and timing displayed by the dancers in relation to the music ‘Eternal Light: A Requiem.'

The second section, ‘Swansong’ is stunning in it’s simplicity. A prisoner/victim clad in a tee shirt. Sitting on a wooden chair he shows no emotion. Two inquisitors enter the room and begin to taunt him. Pulling him off the chair, - pushing him around and hitting him. Showing that’ll stop at nothing to obtain the information they’re seeking.

The inquisition becomes increasingly relentless and the prisoner, now at death's door, slumps into an unconscious state. The interrogators look down while a shaft of light welcomes the prisoner into the ‘next world’.

His spirit finally leaves the body- he looks towards the welcoming light, seemingly reluctant to leave, but eventually he departs his miserable existence leaving his interrogators looking down at the chair that unknown to them merely contains a worthless shell of a body.

The prisoner hadn’t been ‘broken’. The losers were the cruel interrogators.

Choreographer Christopher Bruce dedicated this stunning piece to Amnesty International and the three dancers; Victim, Alexander Whitley, and Interrogators, Kyril Burlov and Martin Joyce who danced their roles to perfection.

The reception from an entranced audience spoke volumes and Christopher Bruce, one of Britain’s leading choreographers with an international reputation, can feel justifiably proud of this work.

In contrast the final piece was a perfect counterbalance to the thought provoking sections ‘Eternal Light’ and ‘Swansong’.

The Carnival of the Animals is light in approach. Simplistic in application and humorous in content.

Dancers and musicians depicting movement and sounds of a variety of creatures that comprise the Animal Kingdom.

Opening with the ‘Royal March of the Lions’ depicting among others ‘Hens and Cockerels’ ‘Birds’ ‘Elephants’ ‘Kangaroos’ a very amusing ‘Cuckoo’ climaxing with the elegant beautiful much loved Swan.

This music written by Camille Saint-Saens, a child prodigy and a brilliant pianist (who went on to become a hugely prolific composer) Hippodrome lends itself to the choreography of Siobhan Davies who herself is a revered figure in the world of contemporary dance.

The audience, many of them members from dance schools and familiar with the work of the Rambert Dance Company, whooped enthusiastic applause at the final curtain call - they certainly weren’t in the mood to return home!

Final thoughts. Enthusiasts who enjoy the delights of contemporary dance will no doubt be delighted with this production while those unfamiliar with this unique art form may welcome the chance to see this and other future collaborations, when the Hippodrome next provides the opportunity.

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