Rambert Dance Company

'21', 'Visions Fugitives', 'Elsa Canasta'

by Kate Snedeker

November 5, 2003 -- Edinburgh Festival Theater, Edinburgh, Scotland


Competing with the colorful explosions of Guy Faulkes Day fireworks and the last minute lead-up to the MTV-Europe Music Awards for the attention of Edinburghers, the Rambert Dance Company faced a stiff challenge. However, on Wednesday evening at the Festival Theater, the company combined impressive talent with its tradition of innovation to put on a performance that neither fireworks nor MTV could match. The program included Rafael Bonachela's "21", "Visions Fugitives" by Hans van Manen, and Javier de Frutos' "Elsa Canasta".

With Kylie Minogue actually in Edinburgh to attend the MTV Awards, Rafael Bonachela's "21" was a fitting way to open the program. "21," a collaboration between Bonachela, who has choreographed several stage routines for Ms. Minogue, and two members of her creative team, William Baker and Alan Macdonald, uses film, music and dance to "explore the meaning of celebrity and adoration". The piece is divided into three seven-minute long sections, thus the name, "21". Benjamin Wallfisch's score begins with a violin solo, a trio of women twisting and unfolding their limbs to the almost mournful music. Each dancer is powerful and pointed in movement, but the lack of contact isolates them despite their close proximity.

This sense of isolation continues in the second section, where images of Ms. Minogue are projected onto a thin scrim in front of the dancers. Yet while she seems serene, almost introspective, the action behind her onstage is jagged, powerful and without expression. Faces do not smile or frown, and partnering, though very capably performed, seems perfunctory. Human contact in this strange world of adoration appears to elicit no feeling. It is, perhaps, an apt depiction of the raw, unpleasant flip side of celebrity...talent, energy, perfection, contact, but little real emotion. There is an emptiness to the adoration of celebrity--an adoration of a facade, not a real flesh and blood person. Baker and Macdonald's simple costumes--flesh colored briefs and bra or tank tops--add to the neutral, expressionless feel of the piece

Taking us back to a world of emotion, Hans van Manen's "Visions Fugitives" is a compilation of brief dance vignettes. Set to a series of 15 miniature compositions by Sergei Prokofiev, each one lasting no longer than 60 seconds, the scenes range from the amusing to the sinister. In one vignette, a man and a woman dance a moving duet, but she rebuffs him as they leave the stage. Later, another woman, portrayed by the elegant Megumi Eda, pauses to let her fellow dancers leave the stage, then makes her own triumphant exit. In a particularly memorable scene, the dancers run one by one onto the stage, each keeling over in mock agony as the next dancer arrives. The resulting frozen collage of agonized expressions is at once humorous and disturbing.

The finely striped unitards by Keso Dekker create a sense of constant motion, but more attention to the cut and choice of color would have made the unitards more flattering on the wide variety of body shapes and sizes in the company. Though danced with polish, especially in the controlled and powerful duet by Angela Towler and Fabrice Serafino, the vignettes never quite seemed to coalesce into a coherent whole. Prokofiev's miniatures, characterized by pizzicato notes and a minor keys, did not always seem to transition as quickly or as completely as the vignettes onstage.

The very sinister ending also asked more questions than it answered. Why after so much sly humor do we see a woman dance with her partner until she falls in an unmoving heap on the floor, ignored by her partner and everyone else onstage? Is it merely a case of choreography matching the music, or a deeper comment about human emotion?

In "Elsa Canasta", Brazilian choreographer Javier De Frutos takes something old and makes it new with stunning results. Using music by Cole Porter, including a recently re-discovered score written for the Swedish Ballet in 1923, De Frutos brings the swinging world of Porter's 1920s to the 21st Century. This is not the Cole Porter of "Anything Goes"; it's a moodier, edgier, riskier and more stripped down Porter. Jean-Marc Puissant and Guiseppe Di Iorios' set, costumes and lights are all in shades of grey, a curved staircase the lone piece of set. This grey-scale world places the emphasis on the dance and makes everything very ambiguous. It's the ambiguity in Porter's lyrics and music that De Frutos plays up, starting with an intense, beautifully danced pas de deux to "So in Love" sung by Melanie Marshall, a sensual pas de deux for two men. Fabrice Serafino and Robin Gladwin were superb in the pas de deux, maintaining an electric, but unforced tension with Gladwin's slow, impressively high extensions particularly noteworthy.

As the two men head up the stairs, the action picks up with a montage of other relationships played out on the stage and stairs. The mood is erotic, but playful with energy to burn. One scene, in which two men each dance with three women, hints at an Balanchinian inspiration, the dancers striking a pose much like the famous image in Apollo: three female muses, all supported in arabesque by the god Apollo, each woman's leg at a different angle. In a series of duets, we see squabbling couples, until finally the stage erupts into playful, sensual, squabbling chaos. To the strains of "Ridin' High", the chaos subsides, people exiting until just the original male couple remains.

De Fruto's choreography is powerful and original, though occasionally bordering on excessive repetition. He also makes wonderful use of the sole prop, the curving staircase. It is not only an exit and entrance, it becomes part of the action. The women leap off the stairs, caught at seemingly the last possible moment, and in one duet, the woman topples backwards off the stairs into her partners arms, only to be gently pushed backed into a standing position, repeating the action on each step.
While an onstage singer can sometimes be a distraction in a dance piece, De Frutos found a perfect balance in Melanie Marshall, who had a rich and powerful voice, but never was a distraction from the actual dancing. As in "Visions Fugitive", the company's associate orchestra, London Musici, conducted by Paul Hoskins provided the live music.

Chris Davey provided the lighting for "21", and Joop Caboot for "Visions Fugitives". Ben Pope did the arrangements for "Elsa Canasta".

Edited by Holly Messitt

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