The triple bill has long been the staple diet for Britain’s oldest dance company and this programme again underlined Rambert’s capacity to present diverse material that challenges an excellent cohort of expressive dancers, including many new faces who have arrived over the course of the pandemic. But although this programme entertained it also lacked an overall wow factor.

Aishwarya Raut in Eye Candy
© Camilla Greenwell

Imre and Marne van Opstal’s Eye Candy is the latest of several works that were created as digital productions during the pandemic and have now come to enjoy a new life on stage. By coincidence its digital partner, back in July 2021, was Marion Motin’s Rouge, which had taken the reverse journey, having premiered on stage before going online. 

The van Opstal siblings exercise close control over their creative concept by designing the set and costumes within which to shape their choreography. Eye Candy takes place against two large panels set in a wide V-shaped form, simulating the rock walls of a desolate cave, accentuated by Fabiana Piccioli’s funereal lighting; a black, highly reflective floor and water-dripping sounds punctuating Amos Ben-Tal’s pulsating score. The van Opstal theme concerns the unattainable search for the perfect body; an image represented by dancers wearing fake silicone torsos illustrating the twin peaks of pneumatic breasts for the two women and ripped six-packs for the six men.

Eye Candy
© Camilla Greenwell

Flurries of body-related imagery overlay the choreography, challenging the audience to confront the obsession and pain of searching for such cosmetically-enhanced body idealism. Hardly a new concept but it included one memorable sequence where Simone Damberg Würtz (a hybrid of sex doll and ventriloquist’s dummy) sat on another dancer while her mouth was manipulated to lip-synch with a recorded text. In a refreshing change of emphasis for the final section, the group choreography took on a strong, organic feel and my growing disengagement with the bleakness of the piece was relieved by this energetic finale.

Cerberus
© Camilla Greenwell

Ben Duke’s latest work, Cerberus, is a riff on mortality loosely inspired by the eponymous guard dog that secures the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology and, in contrast to the opening work, it was absorbing from a peculiar beginning to the comically abrupt end. Spoken text is generally central to Duke’s work and once again he has produced a gently ironic and humorous text (supported by dramaturge Andreea Paduraru) themed on Orpheus’ descent into Hades to find Eurydice.  

Aishwarya Raut opened proceedings by making her way across the front of the stage, lassoed by a thick length of rope being fed out from stage right when she disappears into the wings at stage left. Antonello Sangiradi addresses a humorous eulogy to the audience in Italian (translated by Alex Soulliere) about Aishwarya’s disappearance, philosophising that she may have entered the underworld (beware stage left)!

Aishwarya Raut in Cerberus
© Camilla Greenwell

Duke’s humour is, as ever, full of subtlety but also punctuated by laugh-out-loud comedy and the sundry shenanigans of Sangiradi and Soulliere are played out against a backdrop of the large cast perambulating in many diverse ways in a straight line (rather like a conveyor belt) from right to left, representing birth to death, disappearing into the “underworld” but always quickly re-emerging from the right on this perpetual journey, as Sangiradi tries everything to save them from Hades. Amongst these dancers was Musa Motha, a remarkable performer from South Africa whose left leg was amputated above the knee when he was ten. Now, sixteen years after that life-changing event, Motha is a member of the Rambert ensemble and the flow of his movement, performing on either one or two crutches, is extraordinary, blending seamlessly into the ensemble, moving fluidly in the same uniform movement patterns and momentum.

Musa Motha in Cerberus
© Camilla Greenwell

I have long admired the hypnotic, fluid classicism in the work of Alonzo King (and his San Francisco-based company, Alonzo King LINES Ballet) but it is largely unperformed in the UK, so kudos to Rambert’s artistic director, Benoit Swan Pouffer, for acquiring the rights to Following the Subtle Current Upstream, a gentle, joyful work that King originally made on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre back in 2000, embellished by Robert Rosenwasser’s pastel-coloured costumes. King's continual flow of elegant movement in varied groups of the dozen dancers gently flows over one's consciousness, studded with neoclassical ballet in rapid spins and intricate patterns. There is very little elevation off the ground and I discerned a varying level of movement quality within the ensemble where some appeared more comfortable with King’s particular language than others.

Max Day, Guillaume Queau and Jonathan Wade in Following the Subtle Current Upstream
© Camilla Greenwell

The overall impact of this triple bill would have been improved by switching the order so that Cerberus concluded the programme with an emphatic and uplifting bang rather than the gentler finish of King’s 22-year-old work. The really worrying issue was the poor attendance at this opening night. Rows of empty seats in the stalls suggested that Rambert is no longer succeeding in attracting the audiences it needs to fill theatres of this size.

***11