Rambert: Ghost Dances

Nov 24 2016 | By More

★★★★☆  Bitty

Festival Theatre: Wed 23-Fri 25 Nov 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

Vicious, enthralling, politically charged and emotionally engaging, Rambert’s revival of Ghost Dances, is still powerful, 35 years after it was created.

The final part of a triple bill, playing the Festival Theatre to Friday, it was choreographed by Christopher Bruce as a reaction to the disappearances – murders – of civilians during the Pinochet regime in Chile in the early 1970s.

Tomorrow by Guerin Photo: Johan Persson

Tomorrow by Guerin Photo: Johan Persson

Using the music and ritual masks of Chile, Bruce has imagined a trio of skeletal ghosts. Dancers who appear from the darkness of the stage, beneath an abstractly mountainous backdrop, meet ordinary people on the road and dance the dance of death with them.

It’s all given the big sinuous moves and precision that has become Rambert’s hallmark. The added resonance is the sound of pan-pipes, played live, which seem to bring life to the ghostly figures.

The ordinary folk make their travels across the stage, breaking into their own dances, sometimes of celebration, but mostly they seem to be simply of existence. Their deaths are spotlit moments of calm, sometimes unnoticed as the ghosts displace the dead to dance with the partners, at other times obvious as they come among the people.

As a piece of dance if has its own beauty and creation of a meaning, without having to know anything about the circumstances it was written for. It has a sense of the universal about it, despite the strongly South American setting, which speaks of the violent and wrongful taking of life in any time.

a certain gorgeousness

Beside this cleverly created dance which speaks on many levels, its companion pieces provide a certain gorgeousness in their delivery, but lack its depth.

Frames by Alexander Whitley Photo: Tristram Kenton

Frames by Alexander Whitley Photo: Tristram Kenton

The programme’s opening piece, Tomorrow, is particularly impervious to comprehension. As it stands on stage, with a physical barrier running down the middle between two sets if dancers, it is an intellectual conundrum. The difficulty is that the dance itself offers no clues as to what its solution might be.

On one side are seven black-clad living beings. On the other are seven white clad ghostly figures. The living dancers seem to do a lot of killing of one another and the ghosts seem to celebrate it a lot.

It takes a look at choreographer Lucy Guerin’s programme note to know that this is a version of Macbeth. One side of the stage being a representation (running backwards of course) of the action in the play. The other side representing the witches and the psychic elements of Shakespeare’s story.

wilfully obtuse

Maybe, armed with that knowledge, the piece would make sense. The fact that the music is by Scanner and is played live is enough to make it an interesting event to witness, but otherwise Guerin seems to be being wilfully obtuse for the sake of it.

The irony is that Tomorrow is appears to be the perfect example of what the second piece, Frames, is attempting to talk about. Here, using bits of metal pole for the dances to manipulate, choreographer Alexander Whitley is examining the impermanence of dance as an art form, leaving nothing tangible after it has happened.

A ghostly pair of dances, then, making them in some way the perfect couplings with Ghost Dances. Which, itself, gives the lie to Frames‘ central idea by leaving a strong and indelible mark on the memories of those who witness it.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including two intervals).
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Wednesday 23 – Friday 25 November 2016
Evenings: 7.30 pm
Tickets from: www.edtheatres.com

Rambert website: www.rambert.org.uk

Rambert on tour2016/17:
Wed 23 – Fri 25 Nov 2016 Edinburgh
Festival Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Wed 30 Nov – Fri 2 Dec 2016 Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 267222 Book online
Thu 9 – Sat 11 Feb 2017 Glasgow
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7647 Book online
Wed 15 – Thu 16 Feb 2017 Inverness
Eden Court Theatre
01463 234 234 Book online
Wed 1 – Sat 4 Mar 2017 Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online
Wed 8 – Sat 11 Mar 2017 Mold
Theatre Clwyd
01352 701521 Book online
Wed 15 – Fri 17 Mar 2017 Oxford
New Theatre
0844 871 3020 Book online
Thu 23 – Fri 24 Mar 2017 Truro
Hall For Cornwall
01872 262466 Book online
Tue 28 – Thu 30 Mar 2017 Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
Tue 16 – Sat 20 May 2017 London
Sadlers Wells
020 7863 8000 Book online


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