Ghost Dances: Rambert, Sadler's Wells review - vital and joyfully precise dancing | reviews, news & interviews
Ghost dances: rambert, sadler's wells review - vital and joyfully precise dancing, this south american triple bill is highly entertaining, but should it be.
There is a South American theme to Rambert’ s latest triple bill, two new commissions made to chime with an oldie but goldie, the rhythms of Latin social dances linking all three.
Ghost Dances is, I'm told, the most requested work in the company’s 90-year history, but it must have made a very different impression on its first airing. It was made in 1981 at the prompting of the Chilean Human Rights Committee, determined that the world should know about the 35,000 people murdered, and many more imprisoned and tortured, in the wake of General Pinochet’s bloody coup. Christopher Bruce, moved by personal contact with the widow of the singer and poet Victor Jara, choreographed Ghost Dances in response.
Out of its historic context, it’s a work of quaint folk dances and catchy tunes
The absence of music for the first eight minutes or so (in its place is the sound of desolate, blustering wind) should alert us to serious intent. Yet it’s too easy, now, to view the body-painted “ghosts” with their ghoulish skeleton masks and flying dreadlocks as Halloween-style entertainment, and the troupe of dazed rustic Chileans who later fill the stage as happy village folk, not “the dead”.
While it can’t be denied that politically imposed suffering continues around the world, the Andean folk music and striking imagery of this piece make the original message non-transferable. Out of its historic context, it’s a work of quaint folk dances and catchy tunes played on the Andean flute, the sort of music once hawked in British shopping centres on Saturday afternoons. Call me cynical, but I felt the cheers that greeted Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday night related more to its touristic appeal than anything more troubling.
Appropriately for a dance about a Cubist painting, design (Kimie Nakano) plays an active part: at key moments a giant triangle descends from the ceiling like a glittering shard of glass and lodges its point on the floor. Once or twice a dancer narrowly avoids being skewered. But the piece hardly needs additional thrills given the helter-skelter ride of Elena Kats-Chernin’s tango-driven score – a terrific piece that could have a life of its own in the concert hall if played with the panache that Rambert’s own band achieve under the baton of Paul Hoskins.
There are yet more Latin dance rhythms in Aletta Collins’ The days run away like wild horses . It's inspired by an 1980s animation film in which 36 characters appear together in one small room, moving in loops that never intersect.
Even when a middle section appears to get serious ( pictured above right ) there’s an embedded cross-dressing joke. A woman in a three-piece suit uses her man as a stepladder; a man in a dress appears to turn his body inside out, the skirt sheathing him like petals. The choreographer also has fun with long diagonals and chain reactions: always satisfying writ large on a big stage.
The dancing – as one has come to expect from this truly diverse and enterprising company – is vital and joyfully precise. In short, the feelgood factor has rarely been higher. One day soon perhaps Rambert will find a choreographer willing and able to engage with current dire world issues as Christopher Bruce did in the Eighties. There is need indeed.
- Ghost Dances is at Sadler's Wells to May 20
- The Art of Touch/ Awakenings/ Cardoon Club, Rambert Dance, Wycombe Swan
- Crystal Pite, Flight Pattern, Royal Ballet
- Love, Art and Rock 'n' Roll, Rambert, Sadler's Wells
- Neruda, review - 'poetry and politics'
- Rambert Dance
- South America
- Sadler's Wells
- world music
Share this article
More information about text formats
- Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!
Simply enter your email address in the box below
View previous newsletters
- See our complete archive
- privacy and cookies
Rambert's Ghost Dances: Catch an exclusive behind the scenes glimpse at rehearsals
Catch an exclusive behind the scenes glimpse of Rambert dance company in rehearsals for Ghost Dances with our special sneak peek video.
Christopher Bruce rehearses with the dancers for the show he first created in 1981, which is returning to the London stage for the first time in 14 years. It is performed at Sadler’s Wells from May 16-20.
Rambert’s artistic director Mark Baldwin, who has previously performed in the piece himself, was on hand to explain the history behind the piece.
An integral part of Rambert’s repertoire, it pays tribute to the victims of political oppression in South America during the Pinochet regime. The iconic ‘ghost dancers’ interrupt the daily life of ordinary villagers, with Latin music and costumes inspired by the Day of the Dead celebrations.
Ghost Dances is performed in a mixed programme along with two other pieces. Didy Velman’s The 3 Dancers explores the tale behind one of Picasso’s greatest paintings, with cubist imagery brought to the stage. A new work from Aletta Collins, The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses, uses Latin-flavoured music and dancing for a piece on the everyday moments of life.
See Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells before it goes on a national tour from May 16-20; sadlerswells.com
- International edition
- Australia edition
- Europe edition
Rambert review – ghosts, wild horses and dances of life and death
Sadler’s Wells, London Aletta Collins considers a mother’s memories in her new work, part of a triple bill that includes a revival of Christopher Bruce’s classic Ghost Dances
Aletta Collins is one of Britain’s most successful choreographers – and one of the most difficult to pin down. Working in opera, theatre and film, her pure dance pieces come at irregular intervals; when they do appear, they can be surprising. From her Bauhaus-inspired Snow Queen in 1999 to her moving representation of psychic disorientation in her 2010 adaptation of Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings , Collins comes close to reinventing herself as a choreographer every time.
Awakenings was commissioned by Rambert and it is good to see her back with the company for a new work. The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses is about a woman and her memories, and its opening section, inspired by a short animated film, is one of the most sharply choreographed prologues I have seen on the stage. As Collins’s protagonist sits alone in her living room, she becomes progressively crowded by her past. Her young son climbs through a window and tumbles joyously out again. Her husband appears, along with a lustfully entwined young couple, a plumber hefting a toilet, a boy with a Christmas tree and a girl with her homework.
To the swerving, Latin-inflected rhythms of Arturo Márquez ’s Danzones, these characters repeat their individual movement riffs over and over again, creating a comic, jostling, relentless jigsaw puzzle of a life. Just as it threatens to knock down the scenery, the piece then shifts into a different gear: the stage clears and the entire cast, dressed identically as the woman and her husband, distil the chaotic throng of memories into pure dance.
Collins’s choreography follows the lead of Márquez’s music – peppy, plangent and impassioned by turns – and it features some beautifully crafted moments. A chorus of gravely swaying moves, a duet that modulates between tenderness, familiarity and gruffness, suggest elements of the woman’s emotional past. But what is missing – crucially and disappointingly – is a solid sense of the woman herself. At no point in the work does Collins pause to develop a physical presence for her or a distinctively interior point of view. Without them, the choreography lacks a centre, a hook with which to turn a clever concept into a human life.
Human lives are what Christopher Bruce does best. Closing Rambert’s triple bill (which includes a rerun of Didy Veldman’s The 3 Dancers ) is a revival of Bruce’s Ghost Dances, the work he created in 1981 to protest the brutality of Pinochet’s regime in Chile. There are elements in Bruce’s invented folk style that now look a tad whimsical but, beautifully danced by Rambert, it is nonetheless a classic. The magic realism of the ghost dance sections – a trio of gaunt, masked figures prowling a rocky promontory – contrasts hauntingly with the delicate naturalism of their human victims. With just the flutter of a hand, a hesitant, rhythmic break, a flirtatious swagger, Bruce can choreograph the essence of a person’s life and simultaneously make us feel the tragedy of their loss.
- At Sadler’s Wells , London, until 20 May. Box office: 020-7863 8000.
- Sadler's Wells
Ghost Dances as powerful as ever: Rambert at Sadler’s Wells
Sadler’s Wells, London May 16, 2017
Aletta Collins’ The days run away like wild horses opens Rambert’s spring offering at the Wells in fine style. Initially set in a lilac wallpapered room, the distorted proportions make the dancers seem ridiculously tall and the nursery colours give it an odd hallucinatory quality. Each dancer is stuck in a loop of repeated actions: tossing a ball through a window, retrieving it, tossing it out again, carrying a Christmas tree, jogging on the spot and stretching.
The actions build and get more bizarre, each dancer in their mental bubble, including the couple having sex. Gradually, like a colony of ants where each ant has a specific task that contributes to the whole, they collaborate to turn on a light. The colony has been infiltrated though. Amongst the brightly clad dancers in ‘day’ clothes, marron clad men and women are interspersed, their routine co-ordinated.
When the room flies away, taking the levity with it, and we are left with a stage full of maroon-clad dancers dancing to Arturo Márquez’s Cuban-inspired Danzones , the work becomes contemplative, the chaos of life stripped down to essentials of relationships.
Didy Veldman’s The 3 Dancers is inspired by Picasso’s vibrant Cubist painting of 1925 that depicts a classic, vicious love-triangle that refers to the suicide of one of the protagonists. One dancer is wearing a death mask modelled on a mask from the Torres Strait that Picasso owned. He is depicted in sections with a hole through his middle. Another flings her arms in the air in agony or ecstasy but she is not free as her hands are irrevocably attached to the other two. The third person sulks in the shadows, his face mirrored and duplicated by his own shadow on the wall behind him.
Not that any of this would be discernible from Veldman’s depiction. Kimie Nakano’s design strips it of all colour and presents it in monochrome. A couple of steely barbs fly in slowly which are aesthetically pleasing but struggle to connect with the actions on stage or bring to mind the painting. Veldman’s choreography strips the subject of all passions and presents a rather rambling work with six dancers, three in black, three in white, so they appear to be shadows of themselves or perhaps one trio represents the darker side of human nature. In the end, it’s just rather frenetic and confusing with Elena Kats-Chernin’s score probably the most interesting contribution.
Without doubt though, the evening belongs Christopher Bruce’s masterpiece Ghost Dances . So much contemporary dance deals with inner, personal conflict and relationships but Bruce paints a global picture. As relevant now as when he made it in 1981, it belongs to a tryptic of equally great human rights-orientated works that includes Swansong and Silence is the End of Our Song , centred on South America but applicable in many other places.
The haunting breathiness of pan pipes sounds like respiration proceeding a death-rattle. Claves and guiros echo the hollow rasp of dry, skeletal bones. The people dance, love and live. They disappear, die and mourn. There is a lot of use of second position and sudden stops as the mood changes direction. Whirling, stamping dancing pulsating with rhythm melts into nothingness as men disappear only to return as wraiths wrapped in wisps of weeds. The dead still dance. Hope and fight have not been killed.
Venezuela post-Chavez faces a real threat of famine and political repression, Latin-American cities dominate the lists of the most likely places to be murdered or kidnapped. In Ecuador, Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Chile people protest against entrenched, repressive governments.
Works like Ghost Dances are needed now more than ever to remind us that dance has a powerful place in human culture to record atrocities, celebrate life and take a stand against oppression.
- Share on Facebook
- Share on Twitter
- Share on Pinterest
- Share on Reddit
- Share on LinkedIn
- Share on Instagram
- Share on WhatsApp
- Share on Email
A feast for eyes and ears: Ravi Shankar’s dance-opera, Sukanya
Colour and delight: matthew bourne’s the red shoes.
DanceTabs is now in Archive – Update and Appreciation
New York City Ballet – Mozartiana, Rubies, La Valse – New York
Royal Ballet – Romeo and Juliet (O’Sullivan and Sambé) – London
Barely Methodical Troupe @ London International Mime Festival – KIN – London
Rambert2 + Rambert – Grey Matter, E2 7SD, Killer Pig, Ghost Dances – London
Rambert2 + Rambert Grey Matter, E2 7SD, Killer Pig, Ghost Dances ★★★★✰ London, Sadler’s Wells 6 November 2018 Gallery of Rambert2 pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou www.rambert.org.uk www.sadlerswells.com
Rambert’s latest programme is a night of hellos and goodbyes, marking the debut of the company’s new standalone junior faction, Rambert2, as well the final performance of a repertory favourite, Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances .
Formed of 13 young dancers plucked from an 800-strong audition pool, Rambert2 includes some standout performers who could easily hold their own against Rambert’s seasoned professionals – a promising dynamic, since the troupe is likely to be a feeder for the mainstage company. They’re a cohesive flock too. Benoit Swan Pouffer’s brand-new Grey Matter gives a glimpse of a tight ensemble humming like a machine. The piece dwells on the physical and conceptual aspects of memory, pitching figurative snapshots of community alongside imagery that hints at neurological mechanisms like neurons and synapses.
Rapper GAIKA’s throbbing beat brings an air of drama, as does Lee Curran’s stark, slanted lighting design. Dressed in spandex that resembles fascia and flashes actual muscle, the group sashays and jerks, thrusts and lurches, softening these jolts with the odd lyrical extension. Popping and contractions are the twin pillars of the choreography, the dancers wrenching their cores like they’re taking a punch.
A smattering of solos reveals individual strengths, like Fay Stoeser’s brisk composure, soundest as she pulses her way through a slow-moving huddle. Across the piece are glimpses of the advanced technique these young dancers bring to the table: deep, luxurious pliés, perfectly notched attitudes and développés.
Pouffer’s work is a gritty appetiser, but it’s Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s restaged Killer Pig that drives home the edge this troupe has in its sights. Echoing the body-pumping vigour of Grey Matter , the choreography layers on eye-grabbing panache in the way of arched spines and hiked legs, nude silhouettes and pelvic-led manoeuvres. The fierce fashionista mood is as unsettling as it is gripping, delivering a swaggering pack ready to bring us to our knees.
Hua Han is the forerunner here, mastering the tightrope between creepy and charismatic with his sinewy skulks and contortions. Salomé Pressac is also riveting, goddess-like in her shoulder-rolling struts. Like Grey Matter , the work drifts somewhat as it hits the half-hour mark; both pieces could use a judicious editor. Here, though, the length feels like a dare: just as the performance appears to wind down, the crowd hankering to applaud it, it revs back up for a gruelling 15-minute dance to the death, the cast reprising their thrusts with impressive stamina.
Rafael Bonachela’s 2004 duet E2 7SD provides a brief interlude of forceful, angular modern dance. There are abrasive stage effects to match Conor Kerrigan and Aishwarya Raut’s distorted, muscular tangles: harsh lights levelled at the audience, smoke blasted in, and a clanging soundscape threaded with whisperings and clinks. It’s an elaborate atmosphere the piece doesn’t need; the choreography and the dancers’ performance is intense as it is.
It’s something of a relief to take in the swaying pleasure of Bruce’s Ghost Dances amid these strident contemporary numbers. Devised in 1981 to mark the victims of Pinochet’s regime in Chile, the ballet conjures skeleton-faced wraiths and vivid folksy frolics, 11 dancers from Rambert’s senior crew breathing life into dives, extensions and huge swinging lifts against a backdrop of misty mountains. Daniel Davidson, Liam Francis and Juan Gil are ghoulish and meditative spectres, while Carolyn Bolton and Hannah Rudd, in particular, bring a frisky spirit to their bouncy village dances.
A portrait of serenity compared to the programme’s other pieces, Ghost Dances still strikes a sharpness all of its own. It’s sad to see it leave the Rambert catalogue, but with the talent of Rambert2 waiting in the wings, it looks like an exciting road ahead.
You may also like.
Thick & Tight @ London International Mime Festival – SHORT & SWEET – London
Akeim Toussaint Buck – Sadler’s Wells Wild Card series: Radical Visions – London
English National Ballet – Raymonda by Tamara Rojo (premiere) – London
Gandini Juggling @ London International Mime Festival – LIFE: A love letter to Merce Cunningham
About the author.
Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor who has studied both dance and literature. She is chief dance critic for Auditorium Magazine, an editor for Review 31 and her work also appears in Fjord Review, Exeunt and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter @SaraEVeale
Claudia Bauer | Foteini Christofilopoulou | Gay Morris | Graham Watts | Heather Desaulniers | Jann Parry | Josephine Leask | Karen Greenspan | Lynette Halewood | Marina Harss | Oksana Khadarina | Siobhan Murphy | Susanna Sloat | Valerie Lawson | Bruce Marriott (Ed)
The above list is composed of those whose work we feature regularly and have generally contributed in the last few months.
>> Complete list of DanceTabs Contributors and more info .
You must be logged in to post a comment.
East Midlands Theatre.
Theatre promotion, review: ballet rambert. ghost dances. nottingham theatre royal..
Ballet Rambert are dancing their proverbial socks off at the Theatre Royal Nottingham Tue 28- Thurs 30 March. Given tonight’s rapturous applause anyone still wishing to book for this fabulous dance company this time round, with Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances as their main attraction, better get their dancing shoes on and their credit card out, sharpish.
As part of the Theatre Royal selection of dances Ballet Rambert offer up three sumptuous dance pieces, each radically different to the other. First off is Flight – a piece inspired by stories, images and conversations of the choreographer Malgorzata Dzierzon’s experiences and impressions of travel and migration. Other than the terrific dancers, the stage is inhabited by a movable wall in sections onto which we see projections that influence the close knit dance element of the piece. Each visual impression is conjectural; meaning that it is down to the onlooker to interpret the meaning of the imagery for themselves. This reviewer saw an initial burst of fireflies and a continuum of abstract projections that lend themselves to Russian Constructivism in design blended with Cubism. As always the dancing from Ballet Rambert is electric, superbly timed and emotionally absorbing.
The second piece, Hydragyrum choreographed by Patricia Okenwa is totally mercurial in demonstration. Initially the dancing is in the almost pitch black with light gradually seeping in from the wings and from reflections in a giant mirror that very slowly turns onto its back as the piece progresses. The dancers are dressed somewhat ninja style and act and react to their choreographed groupings like contained yet occasionally rampant amoeba. There is lots of intriguing head twitching and breakaway movements going on here. As the piece progresses the dance and light shows us the gradual slide from clothed to seeming naked dancers and a progression into a freer state of being and some joyous individualism. Hydragyrum creates distinct dynamics between connection and disconnection, between individuality and togetherness.
As all great dance companies might, Rambert save the very best and perhaps most accessible piece, until last. Throughout the evening’s exciting dance programme we are indebted to the live music of the Rambert orchestra in all three pieces. Most poignant is the Chilean pan pipes and South American folk music arranged by the late Nicholas Mojsiejenko that accompanies Ghost Dances choreographed by Christopher Bruce. Creatively Ghost Dances absorbs many cultural influences from Latin American, its rituals, masks and fascinations with the Days Of The Dead. Mass killings by the Pinochet regime have a major impact on the beautiful but deeply sad nature of the piece. In a contradiction of form this multi-level acclaimed dance work has the three ghost dancers recreating joyous moments of their own lives on earth in amongst the ghostly culling of the living dancers. The live score gives the piece added gravity. In all three pieces the Rambert dancers dance with absolute precision and freedom and are a dance joy to behold.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
Originally written for Nottingham Post. 28th March 2017.
Leave a reply cancel reply, never miss a beat.
Interested in getting blog post updates? Simply click the button below to stay in the loop!
Hailed by London's The Daily Telegraph as "the Nureyev of contemporary ballet," Christopher Bruce was appointed Houston Ballet Associate Choreographer in 1989. In April 1994, Mr. Bruce assumed the artistic directorship of The Rambert Dance Company, Britain's most prestigious contemporary dance troupe. At the time of his appointment, The London Times hailed him as an artist who "could change the face of British dance."
Over the last two decades, Houston Ballet has emerged as Mr. Bruce's artistic home in America. The company has 12 works by Mr. Bruce in its repertoire. He has staged his Ghost Dances , Grinning in Your Face , Intimate Pages , Swansong , Sergeant Early's Dream , Cruel Garden , Rooster and Land for the company and has created four original works: Guatama Buddha (1989), Journey (1990), Nature Dances (1992), and Hush (2006). In 1990, Houston Ballet traveled to Denmark to film Ghost Dances and Journey for Danish Television.
Christopher Bruce's position as one of Britain's leading choreographers, working with both classical and contemporary companies world wide, was acknowledged in March 1993 when he received the International Theatre Institute Award for excellence in international dance. This followed a host of other awards throughout a rich career, including the first Evening Standard Award for Dance in 1974 due to his contribution to British dance, both as a performer and as a choreographer. In 1996, he received the Evening Standard Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in Ballet. In June 1998, he was named a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II as part of the Queen's Birthday Honors.
As a choreographer, Christopher Bruce was undoubtedly stimulated by the variety and experimentation of Ballet Rambert in the 1960s, creating over twenty works for the company. Between 1975 and 1987, he was first associate director and then, as he was increasingly in demand internationally as a choreographer, associate choreographer for Rambert.
During his career, he has choreographed for a wide range of productions including musicals, plays for the Royal National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, operas, television, and video. Although his productions have been mounted throughout the world, Mr. Bruce has developed special relationships with a number of companies, including Houston Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theater, Royal Danish Ballet, Cullberg Ballet, English National Ballet, Gulbenkian Ballet, and Le Ballet du Grand Theatre de Gen. Among his best known works are Cruel Garden, Ghost Dances, Sergeant Early's Dream, Intimate Pages, The Dream is Over, Swansong , and Rooster , all of which have been televised.