Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre doesn’t always lend itself to dance—productions can sometimes feel a little bit cramped on its stage. However, tonight’s performances by Rambert’s new company of younger dancers, Rambert 2 (which is less than a year old), have relatively few dancers and no sets, and the King’s gives the whole thing a welcome intimacy. There is no programme available tonight (just a cast list), but whether by omission or design, this is very welcome: the choreography can be enjoyed without trying to box it into some particular narrative.
As would be hoped, this is not an evening of glossy work created with crowd-pleasing in mind. Although passionately danced with both incredible stamina and high energy by Rambert 2’s thirteen very talented dancers, the choreography is not always entirely successful. But a company such as Rambert 2 is exactly the sort of sandbox that cutting-edge choreography should be tested in: it is all the more exciting for its flaws.
The first work, Grey Matter, by Rambert’s Artistic Director Benoit Swan Pouffer, takes a while to come into focus, almost certainly in part because of the dancer’s relationship with the music by GAIKA: the dancers appear almost to surf over the beat. This is choreography of the digital era, with a complex language that does not have a “linear” relationship to a small subset of other people’s work or styles (past or present). If anything, visually, Grey Matter feels more rooted in video.
Its unique energy does, unfortunately, fade from time to time, for example, during the section that leads us to its beautiful, almost quasi-religious climax (reminiscent of a sacred painting), followed by its striking coda. Generally, despite the impeccable dancing, Grey Matter still feels a bit raw, with many stunning fragments that don’t always quite fit together perfectly. Also, it is a shame that the King’s Theatre sound system is not really up to reproducing GAIKA’s score, and that the sound is not more immersive (which it is crying out to be).
After a short pause, we have Rafael Bonachela’s E2 7SD, danced fantastically by Conor Kerrigan and Aishwarya Raut. Unfortunately, the connection between the choreography and Oswaldo Maciá’s “Sound Sculpture” (created in collaboration with Santiago Posada) is completely lost given the combination of the King’s poor sound reproduction system and its unsuitable acoustic for amplified sound. Maciá’s piece is something that probably sounds fantastic on headphones (it does: I tried it!), but certainly in the King’s (and one suspects other real theatre spaces), its use of sonic space is completely lost, as is the clarity of the voices.
This is a shame, because Bonachela’s sensitive and exquisite choreography depends a great deal on its relationship to the subtleties of Maciá’s sound, so much so, that lack of sound clarity leads to lack of choreographic clarity. Indeed, towards the end of the piece, when Maciá’s layer of voices finally ends, creating (in the King’s) a more legible sound world, the choreography appears to snap back in to focus.
Finally, we come to the highlight of the evening, Killer Pig, choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, which really shows Rambert 2’s mettle. Using as its starting material a cornucopia of visual sources, it takes these and bends, extends, augments, splices, repeats and merges them to create a fluid and unique choreography. Music by Ori Lichtik, comprising a series of progressing musical cells (in some ways rather like parts of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps), is trance-making and ritualistic, which is reflected in the choreography. Combined, music and choreography draw the audience right into the centre of the work’s frenzied world and time stands still for them: it is simply breathtaking.
Rambert 2 dance Killer Pig faultlessly and with incredible energy. Given the audience response (many of the audience are moved to give a standing ovation), it is clear that although crowd-pleasing may have not been Rambert 2’s primary motivation, the crowd are pleased nevertheless!