Following Wim Vandekeybus’s award-winning Draw From Within and Jo Strømgren’s Rooms, Rambert has returned with a double helping of digital dance, filmed live from their Southbank home and streamed in real time on the excellent Rambert Home Studio platform. An extra frisson of excitement derived from the knowledge that this show could only be seen live.

Rambert dancers in Imre and Marne van Opstal's Eye Candy
© Camilla Greenwell

The company’s artistic director, Benoit Swan Pouffer, has chosen to showcase the work of a choreographic partnership, new to the UK, with the world premiere of Eye Candy by Imre and Marne van Opstal, best known for their work at Nederlands Dans Theater, together with a livestream premiere of Marion Motin’s Rouge, which I was fortunate to see at its first stage outing (at Sadler’s Wells) in Pouffer’s inaugural programme, back in May 2019.  

The van Opstal siblings have an all-embracing approach to creating their work, taking joint responsibility for set and costume design as well as concept and choreography.  The set consisted of the interior wall of a cave and a black reflective floor and the most remarkable thing about their costumes were the full-torso, naked bodysuits worn by the dancers. Although Eye Candy had been made to be seen via cameras and screen, I was disappointed that the filming was mostly front-on as if the action was being viewed only through a proscenium.   

Simone Damberg Wurtz and Guillaume Quéau in Imre and Marne van Opstal's Eye Candy
© Camilla Greenwell

The work began with an apparently naked body, lying facing away from the camera although as it panned nearer to the recumbent being, the outline of the fake torso and nude-coloured shorts became apparent. Aishwarya Raut and Simone Damberg Würtz ambled out of the background darkness, closely hugged against each other with Raut’s false breasts and her eyes and ears being manipulated by Damberg Würtz, Daniel Davidson and others. These were the first of many images that challenged the audience to become absorbed with thoughts about the body (our own as well as those on screen) and how being viewed via the camera lens affects the relationship between mind and body. One thought that floated regularly through my mind was why did the dancers have to wear prosthetic torsos to show perfectly sculpted “six-packs” when they had the real thing lying underneath?

The movement sequences were accompanied by throbbing music composed by Amos Ben-Tal which was mixed with various watery drips and squelches. In one sequence, Damberg Würtz became something between a sex doll and a ventriloquist’s puppet, her jaw opening widely in sequence with recorded spoken text. The music morphed into a melodic acoustic guitar for a duet between Damberg Würtz and Guillaume Quéau, while in a previous duet, Davidson and Juan Gil stood in wide pliés while stretching their faces in gruesome extremis. Just as I was beginning to tire, the choreography changed dramatically in favour of the unified, organic movement of all eight dancers, making and sustaining impressive shapes and patterns. The work faded out as a camera pulled back on a middle rail to show the other cameras focused on the remaining dance pair as the director counted down with the fingers on her raised hand.      

Guillaume Quéau in Marion Motin's Rouge
© Camilla Greenwell

My review of the stage premiere of Motin’s Rouge described it as the “highlight of the evening”, which was great praise given that it was sandwiched between popular works by Wayne McGregor and Hofesh Shechter. I was fascinated to see if Rouge would be further enhanced by the expansive dimensional and spatial opportunities that were offered through the digital process and I was not disappointed.  

Motin was a dancer herself (for Angelin Preljocaj amongst others) and she now leads her own performance collective (Swagger), which has strong credentials in street and commercial dance (including pop videos for Dua Lipa). Rouge started outside the studios by the rubbish bins, in the rain, with an electric guitarist (Adrian Utley) performing heavy rock music. Damberg Würtz walked nonchalantly past and the camera followed her inside and into the smoke from which the other performers appeared, like cartoon superheroes stepping out of the mist and then they repeatedly dropped to the floor and leapt back to their feet. Yann Seabra’s eclectic costumes gave individuality to each of the ten performers, from gimp mask to aviator sunglasses and Bowie t-shirt. 

Rambert dancers in Marion Motin's Rouge
© Camilla Greenwell

Although Rouge was originally made for stage there was much more of a sense of the camera being in amongst the dancers than with Eye Candy, as the action seemed to translate into a rave with the dancers shedding their outer layers of clothing and dancing in a club-like atmosphere with neon strip lighting mirrored from backdrop to floor. The chemistry between the dancers was palpable as was their enjoyment in Motin’s high-energy gesture and movement, driven relentlessly by the infectious rhythms in Mika Luna’s score. Back in 2019, this seemed like a manifesto for Pouffer’s new Rambert: now, it seems set to become a signature work. 

This performance was reviewed from the Rambert live video stream