The Marie Rambert Studio © Hugo Glendinning
The Marie Rambert Studio
© Hugo Glendinning
In a storyline reminiscent of a magical fairytale plot, the peppercorn rent of a pair of ballet shoes a year – plus a solemn pledge – gets contemporary dance company Rambert a shiny new home and an exciting new future. Britain’s longest existing contemporary dance company has now taken up residence in the heart of London’s South Bank, opposite the National Theatre.

The company’s new home - a new £19.6 million, purpose-designed building, was 12 years in the planning, and is on a site owned by social enterprise Coin Street Community Builders. The land was made available to Rambert in return for provision of a community dance programme in the local area... And, of course, that peppercorn rent of one pair of ballet shoes annually.

Taken on a tour of Rambert’s new home, I am struck by the all-pervading sensation of openness and light; spacious dance studios with tall windows that maximise natural light; transparency between connecting corridors and the spaces they open onto. Rambert’s new home is designed for an all-inclusive culture of involvement and engagement. Remember that the twenty-two Rambert dancers are slightly outnumbered by support staff, ranging from admin and maintenance to technical, wardrobe and learning - and all things in between.

Rehearsal director Mikaela Polley © Simon Weir
Rehearsal director Mikaela Polley
© Simon Weir

Although juggling a hectic schedule, rehearsal director Mikaela Polley generously finds time to talk to me. One of just two Rambert rehearsal directors, Mikaela joined the company in 2001 as a dancer, making the transition to rehearsal director in 2007. When we meet, Mikaela is is mid-project with celebrated American guest-choreographer, Lucinda Childs.

She says: “It’s wonderful to be here in this building. First of all the studios are amazing. The size of them opens up so many possibilities. The Marie Rambert studio exactly replicates the size of Sadler’s Wells stage which is a huge benefit to choreographers and dancers making and practising work."

“The other studios are equally large and it means that the spaces can be marked out prior to tour, with specific theatre stages in mind, so we can work on many scales in our collaboration with composers, designers and choreographers. We can also get orchestras into the spaces along with the dancers, so they can work together with live music prior to going on tour.” This is an important factor when you consider that 75% or more) of Rambert performances take place outside London.

The new home will bring Rambert new revenue, with increased capacity for classes and facility hire. The state-of-the-art facility also includes treatment and body conditioning rooms, workshops, offices, an extensive archive and so much more. There are smaller studio spaces too, for dancers returning to work after injury or for the first steps in work on new pieces. 

Rehearsals in the Marie Rambert Studio © Hugo Glendinning
Rehearsals in the Marie Rambert Studio
© Hugo Glendinning

But the ultra-swish facilities are only part of the story. This prestigious new, central location translates to very real opportunities for Rambert, as Mikaela explains. “This location makes us a prominent resident on the South Bank and puts us at the hub of differing art forms. Here we are surrounded by all the inspiration of the other arts such as theatre and visual arts – right on our doorstep. The close proximity means we can meet easily with those involved, giving great potential for cross-art collaboration. You could say it opens our door to new creativity.” 

Mikaela is right. This move is nothing short of genius. This puts Rambert firmly at the heart of the nation’s artistic life and gives dance pride of place among the visual arts, theatre and culture of the teeming South Bank.

Rambert's new home © Christine Holley
Rambert's new home
© Christine Holley
 It’s all neatly summed up by artistic director Mark Baldwin when he says: “The time has come for dance to take its place on the South Bank among other prestigious arts organisations, and it seems fitting that Rambert, with its unique combination of heritage and pioneering vision, is the company to bring it here.”

During the first year in its new building, Rambert’s home will be a hub for making new works, restaging classic repertory, creative collaborations and community engagement. This includes Mark Baldwin’s new work, created in collaboration with visual artist Katie Paterson. Other highlights include a first creation for Rambert from choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh, a new work by Alexander Whitley and a revival of Christopher Bruce’s 2001 Rooster.