Free Haribos? Or, so it seemed when small plastic packets of squishy pink and yellow blobs were insistently offered at ticket collection, cloakroom and on entry to the Linbury Theatre. Sadly, for those with a sweet tooth, these turned out to be earplugs, which is frankly not the best way to start the evening. If the music is to be so loud that people’s ears need protection then something is wrong when we have come to watch dance. It turned out that the earplugs seemed an unnecessary product of an over-zealous risk assessment since, sitting in the third row of the stalls, neither I nor anyone around me ever felt in need of them.

Maëva Berthelot and Edit Domoszlai in <i>Aisha and Abhaya</i> © Foteini Christofilopoulou
Maëva Berthelot and Edit Domoszlai in Aisha and Abhaya
© Foteini Christofilopoulou

The music turned out to be one of the best things about Rambert's Aisha and Abhaya. Composed by Ori Lichtik and Gaika the insistent electronic rhythms were the work’s driving force and so infectious that it was a constant challenge not to tap along: a test of self-control that I failed on numerous occasions, finding my feet moving to the compulsive seduction of those constant beats.

If the music worked so well, the same cannot be said for the visuals. Aisha and Abhaya is an integrated work that flips from film to live dance and back again. There was a high production standard to the film, directed by Kibwe Tavares, but it was let down by the technical issues in the projection of the first segment, entitled Journey. A flimsy and transparent sheet was hung across the proscenium, which meant those of sitting just a few metres from the stage were overwhelmed by the gigantic imagery; an irritation worsened by a light shining through the screen from the back of the stage, meaning that many of us sitting directly opposite the light had to shield our eyes to be able to see anything. Never mind the earplugs; sunglasses would have been a better option.

The theatrical intention was for the screen to be whipped away immediately at the conclusion of Journey to morph seamlessly into the live action on stage. Unfortunately, however, the dancers could be seen clearly through the screen for some time before the film's conclusion and so the drama of the reveal was ruined.

Rambert dancers in <i>Aisha and Abhaya</i> © Foteini Christofilopoulou
Rambert dancers in Aisha and Abhaya
© Foteini Christofilopoulou

These are all issues that one would expect to see resolved before the opening night of an important work co-produced by the two oldest dance companies in the UK. However, as is so often the case, I suspect that the significant number of creatives involved in this project (many more than 30 are named in the programme) meant that it proved too difficult to coordinate these issues satisfactorily and in time.

This all being said, in addition to the music, high praise is also due for Sharon Eyal’s compulsive, throbbing choreography and the extraordinary performances of the seven dancers. The first session of movement, a bridge between Journey and the subsequent film entitled Before (as the title implies, a flashback to earlier times) was 25 minutes of the most intense physical exertion one is ever likely to see in terms of maximum movement with minimum travel. Across the two sections of dance, first Hannah Rudd and then Edit Domoszlai were mesmerising in their perpetual motion, muscles pulsing through their torsos as if an electric current was flowing through them. When the group ventured to the front of the stage, the intimacy of the work was palpable as Rudd seemed to articulate a silent scream of anguish.

Guillaume Queau in <i>Aisha and Abhaya</i> © Foteini Christofilopoulou
Guillaume Queau in Aisha and Abhaya
© Foteini Christofilopoulou

Loosely based on the tale of The Little Match Girl (so loosely that the connection was unclear to me), the opening film meandered from a beach and a broken boat, and through a forest, articulating a journey for the sisters, Aisha (Salomé Pressac) and Abhaya (Maëva Berthelot), the motivation for which was not clear. The second part – Before – showed the brutal murder of the girls’ grandmother (Angela Wynter) by a pair of paramilitary soldiers, and the sisters’ escape. The impact and perspective of the visual splendour of Tavares’ direction was much improved when the film was projected onto the back screen. The director’s architectural training seemed evident in a continuing vital sense of place throughout the movie. During the live action sequences, a backdrop of fast-moving digital film framed the dancers, placing them within an environment that often resembled a fast car ride through a Bladerunner-style streetscape.

Although the music, choreography and performance were excellent, there is a much better show in this production than the one seen here and hopefully the technical irritants that disturbed my enjoyment of the opening film and the transition to the live action will be resolved. The earplugs were a waste (climate change, anyone?). I wish they had been Haribos and I hope that no-one ate them!


***11