Rambert Dance Company at Sadler’s Wells – Four Elements … Rooster

Four Elements – ballet to choreography by Lucinda Childs
Rooster – ballet to choreography by Christopher Bruce

Four Elements
Dancers – Adam Blyde, Simone Damberg Würtz, Antonette Dayrit, Dane Hurst, Estela Merlos, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Hannah Rudd, Stephen Wright

Gavin Bryars – Music
Jennifer Bartlett – Design
Howell Binkley – Lighting

Dancers – Miguel Altunaga, Hannah Rudd, Mbulelo Ndabeni, Carolyn Bolton, Adam Blyde, Patricia Okenwa, Dane Hurst, Antonette Dayrit, Stephen Wright, Estela Merlos

The Rolling Stones – Music
Marian Bruce – Costumes
Tina MacHugh – Lighting

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 20 May, 2014
Venue: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

It is easy to forget that, despite its resolutely modern outlook, Rambert Dance Company is this country’s oldest-established dance ensemble. It has a rich back-catalogue of works – in dance, knowing where you have come from informs where you are and where you will be going. Thus, at Sadler’s Wells, the company presented a quartet of modern dance ‘oldies’. Alas, I was prevented from seeing Merce Cunningham’s Sounddance, a true classic of the genre dating from 1977 and still a challenging and stimulating work, and also Richard Alston’s 1982 solo Dutiful Ducks, an audience favourite and a showpiece for a male dancer. However, I was able to see two pieces which could not be more different: Lucinda Childs’s Four Elements (1990) and Christopher Bruce’s Rooster (1991).

Childs is something of a high priestess of minimalist dance. Formed in the radical New York Judson Street Theater, she rarely works outside the USA. Her style is distinctive mostly for what it is not and what it does not do. Her dancers rarely move with any speed, although Four Elements does involve some presto movement in the Air section, and they also rarely leave the ground, often skimming just above in small, low hops and jumps, the movement in essence grounded. Four Elements presents four men and four women in four sections representing Water, Earth, Air and Fire, although one would be hard-pressed to identify any truly distinctive differences. The dancers remain impassive, as if a fourth wall existed, as they disport themselves privately, which makes for a somewhat alienating audience experience – we look on almost as accidental spectators, what we see seemingly not made principally for our entertainment. The dancers themselves are excellent, entering into this strangely cool world with impressive commitment. Dane Hurst catches the eye with his compact physique, his movement quality the unwinding of a tightly coiled spring, and Adam Blyde’s slim, elegant physique seems admirably suited to the rarified nature of Childs’s invention. Matters are not helped particularly by Jennifer Bartlett’s hotch-potch costumes – an assortment of unitards in everything from tartans to dots which tie-in with a series of faintly grotesque panels which fall and rise for each section. Neither does Gavin Bryars’s music, which is reminiscent of yoga class meditative sound and uses a strange mixture of instruments including alto saxophone, tenor trombone, bass clarinet and flugelhorn.

Christopher Bruce’s Rooster has delighted audiences since it was first performed, and continues to provide ample opportunity for individuals to shine in its innovative, quirky and witty choreography. Set to an octet of Rolling Stones songs, it acknowledges the lyrics while existing in its own movement world, utterly coherent in itself and glorious fun. Inspired by the strutting youth culture of his own younger years, Bruce sets the men up as preening young cockerels, often watched by amused women. The dancers clearly love this work, although some small details have been lost, a few signature movements, not least the Rooster’s strut, a little smudged. No complaints at all about Adam Blyde, who brimmed with eager energy in Not Fade Away, partnered by a suitably unimpressed Patricia Okenwa. Minor cavils apart, Rooster nevertheless continues to be a hit.

It is good that Rambert keeps one eye on its rich past, and what would be most welcome would be an investigation of some of the even earlier works that established the company’s reputation. Antony Tudor worked for Madame Rambert before emigrating to the United States, and created some of his greatest work for her. Current director Mark Baldwin could do a lot worse than reclaiming that part of his company’s heritage and staging both Dark Elegies and Lilac Garden. Now that would be something really radical.

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