fri 14/08/2020

The Art of Touch/ Rainforest/ A Linha Curva, Rambert, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews

The Art of Touch/ Rainforest/ A Linha Curva, Rambert, Sadler's Wells

The Art of Touch/ Rainforest/ A Linha Curva, Rambert, Sadler's Wells

Two rich dishes of past contemporary masters plus a fast food sugar-rush

Fortunately last night Rambert turned up, under Mark Baldwin’s sensitive direction, picking up this 1995 beauty and one of Merce Cunningham’s visual landmarks on a programme that suggests a gap in skill, imagination and sensory perception between two doyens of previous generations of contemporary choreography and an instant-fried-chicken merchant of now.

siobhan_davies_touchThe Art of Touch is about touch, keyboard touch, personal touch. Against dark gold-leaf walls (designed by David Buckland), lit with cunning changes of light (Ian Beswick) that are always mysterious, magical, Davies’s three women and four men cast off a reel of speed and flicking steps that mirror the plucking and timbre changes of Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas, and also pick up on the isolating emotions cast by Matteo Fargion’s answering harpsichord Setti Canzoni (Six Songs), composed to complement Scarlatti 250 years later. (Right: Jonathan Goddard and Gemma Nixon pictured by Hugo Glendinning.) The details in Davies’s piece are a delight, hands going through myriad mercurial messages, bodies scything in great swoops from fore to aft, and the relish with which Rambert’s dancers pick them up and play with them is a demonstration of what the career in dance is intended to encompass - pleasure, stimulation, challenge.

A male-female couple (Angela Towler and Jonathan Goddard) with intimate disagreements on their mind, as is clear from their very delicate adagio duet of courtly but emotionally complex gestures, mirror two soloists isolated from the others (Pieter Symonds and Eryck Brahmania) who have Fargion’s modern music for their muse. These enigmatic semi-narratives run in parallel and sometimes in mesh with the others, leaving much that is allusive, and much that seems simply a luscious, fleeting reaction to the physical sensation of the harpsichord music, its plucking, vibrating, striking of quill against gut string.

On the way you have to fall prostrate in admiration for Towler’s ethereal tremulousness and for the phenomenal Pieter Symonds with tumbling auburn ringlets (she used to be blonde, didn’t she?), who has a back as responsive as a violin string and a bold flying jeté as sudden as an arrow sprung from a bow.

Symonds shines every time she appears, distinctive, characterful, a chameleon in technique, making her mark just as much in a brief entry in the disorientating, druggy 1968 Rainforest of Merce Cunningham, where a small handful of languid dancers in nude-look torn leotards try to stir themselves amid the LSD landscape of silver floating pillows created by Andy Warhol for a gallery in 1966.

The dreamy, slo-mo indolence of the sporadic dancing amid the captivating slow motion of the silver pillows, coupled with a soundscape by David Tudor that is all about rustles, bird calls, animalistic roars and electronic insectoid hums, make for a highly romantic and cohesive (for Cunningham) evocation of a narcotic forest trip. The occasionally glimpsed dancers start slow and reluctant to move from their bedtime cuddles, and end in some kind of cold turkey frenzy by one of them. It’s fascinating, oddly removed from now - part ancient Egyptian, part hippie trip. I don’t think it’s Cunningham’s greatest physical invention that I’ve seen of Rambert's nine acquisitions from his catalogue, but it’s a pretty period piece.

galili_a_linha_curvaFinally, after these two lipsmacking treats, Baldwin - who often steps on his own feet - programmed some fast food by Itzik Galili, an Israeli who went on holidays to Brazil. Ho hum, shake yer ass in tight little Lycra pants and a slit mesh vest, bang some drums behind, and hunker down pelvis-forward, shoulders-behind, and shriek happily. Lots and lots of Rambert dancers line up under 49 coloured lights (reader, I counted them) and shake their tushes as if inventing limbo. (Left: Mbulelo Ndabeni pictured by Hugo Glendinning.) A Linha Curva is the dance equivalent of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five in the tube - each busker thinks this is a great new tune, but each passer-by has heard it a thousand times before.

The trouble is, all those valuable “Young Audiences” haven’t lived long enough to realise, and they scream lustily at the bottom-wiggling and drum-banging, and so Rambert carry on doing this thin, clichéd, touristy piece, and dismissing those of us who point out the clichés as boring old party-poopers.

  • Rambert's triple bill is at Sadler's Wells Theatre, London till Saturday
  • Siobhan Davies's studios and company website
  • Rambert's autumn tour, including a new work inspired by Oliver Sacks's Awakenings, opens on 22 September at The Lowry, Salford. More information on the Rambert website

Listen to one of the Scarlatti sonatas used by Siobhan Davies in 'The Art of Touch' performed by Christophe Rousset:

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