Rambert Dance Company at Sadlers Wells

Rambert Dance Co

Rambert Dance Company is one of the most established companies of the modern dance movement. Over the years there have been many amazing events, joyful dances, dramatic pieces, and thoughtful explorations of the body and the mind.

Costumes have been exuberant, full of colour, or so pared down you wondered if there were any. So I was very much looking forward to a new, much touted piece based on six love poems from very varied authors, with music written for the piece and choreography by Marguerite Donlon (whom I hadn’t yet come across). An exciting start to a new programme, with pieces by the well-known Paul Taylor, England’s much beloved Richard Alston, and last but certainly not least, Merce Cunningham. It was a feast to look forward to.

Labyrinth of love, with music by the American Michael Daugherty featured a narrator, the beautiful crystal clear soprano, Sarah Gabriel. Why she had been stuck in a huge bustle is anybody’s guess - it certainly had nothing to do with the pieces and made for her swishing enormous amounts of material all over the stage. Maybe it was compensation for the white corset-like costumes (bathing costumes?) of the female dancers, who were not well served at all in these outfits. The males fared slightly better, though their flared white trousers, decorated with white bunting made no sense to me either. But it allowed them to show off their superb, lean, muscly torsos. This seemed to me to be the point of the choreography - providing a way to show off the male dancers - ideally dancing in a group. But it wasn’t so much their dance we were supposed to admire - it was their torsos, and mostly their backs. What exactly is the point of this? If I want to see muscly young men in the nude I know where to go - and it’s not the ballet.

This seems to be the vogue right now, and I do feel it needs to stop. Ballet is about movement and bodies in motion, not tableaux of young hunks. That this whole piece was supposed to be about ‘love’ was totally unimportant to Donlon, it seems to me There were very scarce interactions between dancers, and no expression of any feelings I could see. Isn’t that the point of dance - to transpose the words and music into dance form? Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk is a big ask, and Donlon fails miserably. She has a small repertoire of movements that she forced upon those wonderful Ballet Rambert dancers, giving them minimal chances to show their skill. Instead, she used their superbly trained bodies as exhibition pieces. If I were a dancer I’d feel abused.

I was so annoyed I left.