Like a Seamless Togetherness

GHOST DANCES and other works, Rambert, Tour 2016/17, Theatre Royal Brighton, Wednesday 1st March, 7.30pm.

Christopher Bruce’s choreography, his Ghost Dances, a work from 1981, almost ancient history, is expansive and generous, large in ambition, large in achievement, a parade of American references, Diego Rivera, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico, New Mexico, Edward Hopper, early Jackson Pollock, Chile’s (and Argentina’s) Disappeared, a reminder of how much South America there is and always has been north of the Rio Grande, a visual and musical feast, popular and nostalgic, joyful, funny, honest, tragic, with death an ever present fellow traveler.

More of Ghost Dances later. First was Flight, choreographed by Malgorzata Dzierzon, with music composed especially by Some Satoh and Kate Whitley. It was constructionist, or structuralist, suggesting Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus, brutalism. Some costumes were redolent of displacement, and under the grey jackets the dancers wore shirts with designs suggestive of Soviet abstract art from the twenties. There were large panels, apparently concrete, on which were projected more architectural shapes, pure functionality. The dance added up to a kind of brutalist tower, identical shapes making identical rooms, identical apartments, repetitive, somehow an expression of idealism yet this ideal is proved to have been elusive. Why didn’t that work? Why did pure form, pure function turn out be false, to be inhuman, to also be a wall, the Berlin Wall?

Amazingly, this dance is from last year, inspired in part by the referendum to leave the European Union. We can’t escape, nor would we want to, our European heritage, whether walls, or pogroms, art, architecture, idealism, failure, horror or hope.

Second was a dance, Tomorrow, divided in two, one group of seven dancers moved almost constantly to the music, a second group, dressed conventionally in black shirts and trousers performed a narrative, mostly in mime or dumb show, perhaps Orwell’s 1984, perhaps even Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials Trilogy. (In fact the story is Macbeth told backwards, all becoming clear when Macbeth meets the three witches.) It’s a great idea, one group of dancers the animating spirit of the other, the life subterranean, the daemon (to continue the Philip Pullman analogy) of conventional character, a story told twice but told simultaneously. And the music is magic, so easy to forget that the electronic sound is coming from the pit.

Rambert is a timely reminder of the power of communication through action and interaction. The communication is rich in suggestion, complex in content, because it is about the ensemble, not about the individual or a focus on an inner life.

Ghost Dances, though there are characters and individuals, the whole ballet works so effectively because of the commitment to working together, a kind of seamless togetherness. When even dance has become infected with a need for individual expression, for the obsession with exhibiting inner life and emotions, Rambert have, by some kind of miracle held on to, or are committed to, another kind of communication, another kind of dance, which is far more moving, far richer and so much more satisfying.

Paul Corcoran