Who knows what happens behind closed doors? Jo Strømgren has peeked into 36 such spaces to illuminate a myriad of goings-on in Rooms, a fascinating live-streamed dance film from Rambert that involved 17 dancers performing over a hundred roles, wearing a thousand costumes in the process; and all delivered in just under an hour of non-stop action.

Rambert in Jo Strømgren's Rooms
© Camilla Greenwell

The first room hosted a house party – a familiar event that few of us can have enjoyed in recent times – with a group of friends drinking wine, laughing and conversing; each one speaking a different language. The sound of Moonlight Serenade brought a distinct change of mood as the friends paired off romantically to disappear into other rooms. Who knew that Glenn Miller’s music could be such an aphrodisiac?

The camera moved to the adjoining room where Guillaume Quéau and Simone Damberg Würtz were nakedly enjoying an energetic horizontal performance, interrupted by the unexpected return of Quéau’s partner (Aishwarya Raut). While she was distracted, Damberg Würtz escaped from under the duvet with a pillow and then a coat strategically positioned to preserve her modesty.

The room she escaped into was occupied by street dancers wearing VR masks and this juxtaposition of the weird and the wonderful continued as the camera panned from room-to-room. Expect the unexpected and anticipate the absurd were the twin themes of this endeavour. In a later scene, returning to the original bedroom we found that what is good for the gander works equally well for the goose when Damberg Würtz and Raut are found cuddling under that same duvet when Quéau returned home!

Rambert in Jo Strømgren's Rooms
© Camilla Greenwell

A male trio of Orthodox Jews were observed dancing both through the window by excited young women and under security surveillance from the next-door room where a gang of spies were distractedly munching on Krispy Kremes. A series of hooded performers queued up to jump out of the window to the sound of Matt Elliott’s The Howling Song until one refused to jump and was helped on her way. This comic-book violence was endemic: Damberg Würtz and Quéau were again briefly encountered as drunken and aggressive football hooligans (one Millwall, the other West Ham); a man in another football shirt (this time, Newcastle United), tending to some marijuana plants, hid in plain sight when the police showed up but merely concentrated their attention on killing a rat! More potently, a woman was beaten with a pan, presumably by an abusive partner.

Brenda Lee Grech was a temperamental diva (wearing a purple gown) lip-synching to Purcell’s aria “O let me weep” from The Fairy Queen accompanied by a string trio (mandolin, violin and cello) while Naya Lovell and her partner danced a duet in appropriately ethereal costume. This mythological theme continued into a botched recording studio interview about Ovid’s Echo and Narcissus with the lacklustre interviewer (Max Day) being given prompts by his clearly irritated assistant (Raut) before the recording was rudely interrupted by the arrival of fast food!

Rambert dancers Naya Lovell, Conor Kerrigan and Brenda Lee Grech in Jo Strømgren's Rooms
© Camilla Greenwell

Other rooms housed a Rubik cube competition; a game of strip poker; demonstrators with loudhailers, throwing leaflets and waving a flag; a human Barbie doll; Norwegian black metal Goths; and a slow group dance around a wooden dining table (to Kevin Keller’s funereal In Absentia).

The penultimate scenes appeared to reference birth with Grech (aka The Maltese Ballerina) trapped in a glass-fronted cabinet where a realistic baby doll was concealed in a drawer. And another group of women sat on pillows looking at hand mirrors directed back between their open legs as if in some strange maternity rite.

From birth there was an inevitable segue into the imagery of death. The face of a grimacing Damberg Würtz seemed to levitate in a black void before transposing into a man’s face oozing blood from his mouth; and then to a Chapel of Rest with cremation urns being swapped in front of a grieving Hispanic widow, dressed in black lace (Grech, again). An ambulance arrived to remove a woman’s body and the camera dwelt on a hangman’s noose in anticipation of the neck it is to grasp.

In the concluding sequence most, if not all, of the characters parade by the final room’s open window, some carrying various weaponry (frying pan, rifle, pistol) in cartoonish slow-motion, leading to the closing image of Adél Bálint’s lifeless body being displayed Pietà-like on a bed tilted towards the window.

While various themes (sex, violence, birth, death) can be discerned throughout the work, it is best enjoyed by allowing the imagery to flow without challenging it through any deep reflection. Similar territory is well mined by others (Crystal Pite/Jonathon Young, Dimitris Papaioannou, Alan Lucien Øyen and Daniel Proietto all spring to mind) but it’s a genre that Strømgren also graces with an adventurous imaginative power.


This performance was reviewed from the Rambert live video stream

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