At 90, Rambert is the undisputed grande dame of British dance. Ever rigorous in the pursuit of innovation and collaboration, it is fitting that company director Mark Baldwin has chosen to celebrate this anniversary with an evening of work showcasing home grown talent. Contemporaries – as the title suggest – brings together ex-Rambert dancers Malgorzata Dzierzon, Patricia Okenwa and Alexander Whitley in a triple bill exploring the weighty themes of industrialisation, migration and identity politics.  

Miguel Altunaga and Edit Domoszlai in <i>Flight</i> © Johan Persson
Miguel Altunaga and Edit Domoszlai in Flight
© Johan Persson
Flight choreographed by Dzierzon sets a high bar. Developed over the summer (when the Brexit reached a fever pitch), this piece explores travel and migration. Dzierzon and her co-creators evoke a transient no man's land. A terrain constantly redrawn by mobile panels moved by the performers. Caught in the revolving walls, we see fleeting glimpses of lives, struggles and relationships. These slabs also act as a canvas for Luke Hall's video installation. Flecks of light dance across their surface like tiny scurrying ants, mimicking Somai Satoh's restless piano score. Costumes by Janey Gardiner and Jane Wheeler add an occasional splash of colour. A vivid orange catches the shifting contours of the dancers' bodies as they weave around one another. Gossamer threads of emotion run through the choreography. The dancers elongate their limbs as if they are being pulled in different directions in an interlocking web of counter-balances and lifts. Dzierzon crafts a humane and piognant depiction of migration. She is a persuasive dance maker with a gift for collaboration.   

Frames is an ambitious collaboration between Alexander Whitley and designers Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen. They set themselves an intellectual and creative challenge to construct an object. Dancers, like worker bees, busy themselves to the task. It is no mean feat on the part of the cast to manufacture a sculpture comprising of 70 metal poles. The angular lines accentuate the impressive extension of dancers' limbs. Geometric shapes are fashioned and played with.

<i>Frames</i> © Tristram Kenton
Frames
© Tristram Kenton
A wry reference to the ballet barre is a light-hearted touch enjoyed by the audience. Whitley is an articulate and forensic choreographer. He dissects his ideas with precision and completeness. Whilst Whitley clearly maps his creative arc, the journey is ponderous at times. The penultimate section piques my interest. The dancers are lit solely by lamps attached to the poles. Their shadows are thrown onto the pale backdrop to bend and morph the choreography before the finished object is hoisted over space. The densely drawn final sequence is fascinating to watch, conveying the best of Whitley's intelligent exegesis.

The evening's final work is Hydrargyrum. Choreographer Patrica Okenwa takes mercury as her inspiration – a metal with a fluid form and multiple properties. Clad in black and their faces obscured, the dancers are skittish. Energy fizzes between them as dodge and dive. Weary of each other, they form an abrasive alliance.

Vanessa Kang in <i>Hydrargyrum</i> © Tristram Kenton
Vanessa Kang in Hydrargyrum
© Tristram Kenton
Their movements stutter and bark, inflaming an unspoken tension. A single figure (Vanessa Kang) breaks away from the group. She sheds her clothing, transitioning into a solo where she falls and catches her body weight. Gradually Kang is joined by the ensemble. They tilt and waver as if rocked by a turbulent sea. Okenwa's choreography differs in texture to Whitley and Dzierzon.  The dancers arms and legs hang limp, unlike their chiselled limbs in earlier works. Hydrargyrum is an interesting experiment, but lands somewhat unconvincingly as a finished piece.

Perhaps the secret to Rambert's longevity lies in its ability to evolve and inspire. Marie Rambert's legacy burns brightly as the company continues to invest in the next generation of dance innovators including composers, designers and film makers. At this significant milestone, Baldwin chooses to look forward rather than backwards, establishing a new stable of choreographers. Entering its tenth decade, Rambert is in rude health and as popular as ever with UK audiences. 

****1