Four Elements / Rooster / Dutiful Ducks / Sounddance

Choreography by Lucinda Childs, Christopher Bruce, Richard Alston, Merce Cunningham

Rambert Dance Company

Sadler’s Wells

From 20 May 2014 to 24 May 2014

Review by Vera Liber

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An eclectic programme the promotion literature states. It is that, but the mind always tries to see links and patterns, read juxtapositions in the programming. Formalism and fun, head and heart, the intellectual and the organic, the element of chance, avian symbolism? Perhaps all, and none of these.

Their works bookending the programme, both dance pieces making much of entrances and exits, evolutionary development, computer and random rationality, repeat patterns and chance are familiar tropes from Americans Lucinda Childs and Merce Cunningham.

In Childs’s Four Elements, Jennifer Bartlett’s design spells out these crucial fundamentals: pattern and chance picked out in plaid, domino and playing card printed unitards, and in cryptic clues and symbols in her series of backcloth paintings.

A collaboration with Gavin Bryars in 1990 that bore fruit, Childs’s work follows the sections, tempi, tone and colour of his music (played live by the Rambert orchestra), opening with the slow percussive Water, tempo building in Earth, speeding up in Air, and returning slow and deep in Fire.

Metronomic, repetitive, incremental, in perpetuum mobile, four men and four women play out life until only the woman clad in skeleton unitard remains and playing cards rain down on her head.

Richard Alston’s two-minute cheeky Dutiful Ducks, choreographed in 1982 for Michael Clark to Charles Amirkhanian’s amusing soundtext, danced beautifully as before in 2012 by Dane Hurst, precedes Merce Cunningham’s seventeen-minute 1975 seminal work, Sounddance, which closes the evening in unrelenting energy-fuelled motion.

Inspired by James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake—"In the buginning is the woid, 
in the muddle is the sounddance, and thereinofter you're in the unbewised again…"—and, apparently, by life as seen under a microscope, which explains the presence of a Professor of Comparative Cognition on the artistic team, Sounddance seems to me an exploration of pure movement and space, the self in relation to the other, and all the possibilities in-between.

David Tudor’s sequenced digital avant-garde music develops its surround sound array of tropical forest and white noise auditory surprises to a loud finale as Cunningham’s ten robots run riot in sequenced mobility. The dancers look exhausted.

Not so in Christopher Bruce’s 1991 Rooster. They, and we, have fun to a string of Rolling Stones songs, in a sly but exuberant dance hall narrative. The second number on the bill, and it brings the house down. It brought the house down thirteen years ago. Why it’s been absent for so long I can’t imagine.

Nostalgic for the now oft maligned sixties and seventies, charged with infectious rhythmic expression, taking the lyrics literally, Christopher Bruce, Rambert’s former artistic director, in a single cockerel movement defines not only Mick Jagger’s swagger but also an era—that chauvinistic cock of the walk strut and parade in front of the cool chicks on the floor. A proper barnyard...

Dance hall Johnnies, solo show-offs, hand jive, folk jigs, hippy Eastern promise, rock ‘n’ roll rip-offs, and hot sex. Raw music, lyrics that speak vividly to a certain generation, Bruce has spun gold from "Little Red Rooster", "Lady Jane", "Not Fade Away", "As Tears Go By", "Paint It Black", "Ruby Tuesday", "Play With Fire", and "Sympathy For The Devil".

Satirized with tender affection, Bruce brings out the wry humour more than the dark soul at Rooster’s centre, the best time of his/your/my life.

In Marian Bruce’s dominant blacks and reds, in teasing feather boas and mini skirts the girls are synchronized band-backing singers, desirable objects, and they see right through these cuff-shooting, tie-straightening, hair-slicking boys.

Hearts are broken as the couples dance and spin on that dance floor, live out their fantasies, but their style and balletic feet are something else. Sinuous, flexible, fast, melodic, dynamic, free spirits, unflagging to the end of time on cathartic music, the dancers let their hair down—harder than it looks.

Miguel Altunaga is a blast, one of many in a remarkable company of dancers, who ultimately are the unifying force, the logic of the programme: their commitment, their stamina, their grace, athleticism, musicality, and energy. Much is demanded of them and they deliver a hundred per cent. Hannah Rudd, Adam Blyde, Estela Merlos, and Dane Hurst also deserve a mention.