Rambert’s SUB is an intense and visceral exploration of male physicality. Seven male dancers push their bodies to the limit performing Itzik Galili’s choreography with amazing energy. Lit from above in pools of light, bodies appear from the shadows, create new images, and disappear like phantoms. The marvellous shapes of seven bodies spread across the stage momentarily crystal clear, then just as quickly snatched away as the dancers line up like swimmers beginning a race. The dancers move with astounding technique, their timing and precision impeccable as they move between unison and canon. The piece is challenging and visceral, the dancers' grunts of exertion and the glisten of sweat testament to the extremes of masculine ritual. The dancers are stripped to the waist in imitation boiler suits; their nakedness gives a feeling of voyeurism during this physically taxing and beautifully danced piece. SUB is set to the thunderous and intense electronic string sounds of Michael Gordon’s Weather One. The complex rhythms of this recording create a constant demand on the dancers to plumb the depths of masculine strength and go beyond the physically possible, which the dancers do extremely well.

The Castaways: (Dancers: Estela Merlos, Stephen Wright, Vanessa Kang and Miguel Altunaga) © Chris Nash
The Castaways: (Dancers: Estela Merlos, Stephen Wright, Vanessa Kang and Miguel Altunaga)
© Chris Nash

Choreographed by Richard Alston, Dutiful Ducks is a fun, playful piece illustrating the relationship between dance and music, which made me laugh with delight. This solo, performed with light-footed precision by Dane Hurst, is inspired by Charles Amirkhanian’s experimental text-sound composition of the same name. A warm friendly male voice overlaps in detailed rhythmic patterns, rising and falling in layers as the dancer rides on the rhythm of the voice, “pulled along by the precise, rapid vocal rhythm.” The layering of the voice comes in stark contrast to the solo dancer, who is almost vulnerable against the inundation of voices yet commands the stage with visible character. Hurst performs the role with flair and accuracy, his impeccable timing forming the essential link between choreography and music. While surprisingly short, this solo is beautifully danced, touching and humorous.

In Sounddance, ten dancers swarm the stage, performing angular, unfamiliar movements in a unique and thought-provoking piece. The clusters and formations that appear, morph and dissolve, conjure images of the copulation, multiplication, and swarming of insects or animals in mating season. It is astounding that human bodies can appear so unfamiliar! The company dance with the measured control of instinct, their movements purposeful but not pre-meditated. The dancers perform the peculiar, animalistic movements with excellent technique and character, the skill and timing of every individual contributing to a flawless complicity within the company as a whole. Sounddance is a nature-inspired piece about creating a dance, choreographed by Merce Cunningham. As the company flock in, a first lone dancer maintains a sense of control; a choreographer overseeing and manipulating the dance. The piece is set to an arrhythmic, percussive sound-score by David Tudor, the dense, electronic sounds of which inundate the audience with the busy drone of nature.

At the heart of the programme is The Castaways, a new piece by American choreographer Barak Marshall, which premièred on the 9th October 2013. Marshall’s choreography uses a gestural language to create a vivid and theatrical piece, bursting with humour and character. This playful piece tells the story of twelve individuals, trapped in “a hell of their own making.” After brief introductions to the characters, we are launched into the world in which they are stranded, isolated and enclosed. The piece explores relationships as each individual has their story told within the larger scope of the crowd. A pastoral figure narrates the life of a jilted bride who shoots every man who meets her at the altar, with the bang of popping balloons. The passionate Latin lovers argue, the warmonger kills, and the naïve young couple never get past their first kiss. Humorous suggestive choreography divides the group by gender; the women preen and pout, flirt and seduce as they travel toward the men, before aggressively refusing their attentions. Each dancer performs their character with flair, the emotion portrayed genuine and infectious. The Castaways is set to a fun and diverse score, combining live music from the Rambert orchestra and playful recordings, ranging through 1930s jazz, Balkan folk, Soviet pomp, Yiddish and Middle Eastern music. The score establishes the emotional atmosphere for each scene, serving the story and leaving the audience humming its catchy tunes. This dark yet humorous piece is wonderfully performed by the Rambert dancers, whose versatility is engaging and skill impressive.

These four pieces are just a small selection of Rambert’s 2013 autumn tour, which makes for an inspiring, beautiful and diverse evening of entertainment, and is not to be missed.