The Comedy of Change Tour

The Art of Touch / The Comedy of Change / Tread Softly
Rambert Dance Company
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2010)

The Comedy of Change production photo

There are seven pieces in Rambert's repertoire for this tour and three were formed at Newcastle's Theatre Royal: Siobhan Davies' Olivier Award winning The Art of Touch, Rambert artistic director Mark Baldwin's The Comedy of Change, and Henri Oguike's Tread Softly.

The Art of Touch, danced to harpsichord music by Scarlatti and Matteo Fargion played live by David Gordon, is fast and furious, echoing the rush of musical notes. The starting point, Davies says, is how the musician's hand touches the keyboard, how the plectrum make contact with the strings, how does a dancer touch the music, how do the feet touch the floor.

In a piece that is both exhilarating and breath-taking, the seven dancers follow the pattern of the music with rushing movements followed by moments of unstable equilibrium, ready to speed off again. Sometimes they almost vanish into the smoke that shrouds the back of the stage and sometimes they stabnd out against the copper-coloured back wall (reminiscent of a mixture of Rothko painting and RSC set!) It is hard to believe that this piece is fifteen years old. Altogether a thrilling piece.

The Comedy of Change is Mark Baldwin's contribution to the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's On the Oroigin of Species. We start with (insectile?) creatures emerging from white chrysalises, dancers in duo-tone leotards, white at the front and black at the back - camouflage and display, two survival traits in one costume. This duality permeates the piece, as Baldwin's programme note explains: same/difference as the development of individual traits are an aid to survival; reveal/conceal; past/future, the past determines the future and is contained within it.

There are references to the famous Galapagos turtles and glimpses of other animals but there are things which jar. Towards the end the dancers appear totally clothed (including heads with only eyes and mouths revealed) in either black or white, suggesting nothing as much than the rubber costumes so favoured by bondage fetishists, and frankly they looked, to my eyes at any rate, rather silly. These "characters" use tinfoil to turn a sitting dancer into a hunched figure looking like a primitive Mother Earth sculpture or perhaps a Buddha which sits at the back of the stage, turned gold by the lights, and at the end crush it, the dancer having slipped away. A comment on religion, perhaps? It seemed rather specious to me and the laughter that final moment evoked from the audience felt incongruous.

In his first piece for the company after becoming Rambert's artistic director, Constant Speed, Baldwin tackled the seemingly totally unsuitable theme of Einstein's Theory of Relativity and succeeded in making a very successful dance work from it, but this, with what one would have thought to be more tractable material, just didn't quite work for me. There are moments of great insight and the dancers perform with verve and conviction, but...

Oguike's Tread Softly is danced to Schubert's String Quartet in D Minor, popularly known as Death and the Maiden but it has to be said that the female dancers are definitely not maidens! This is an earthily erotic piece in which the women are much stronger than the men. It begins with one of the men tentatively treading for a brief moment on the stomach of one of the women and this motif repeats later in the piece, culminating in one of the women confidently crossing the stage, treading on the stomachs of some of the men. It is the women who, open-legged and thrusting pelvises, initiate and control the sexual relationships.

There are strong African influences throughout but they are totally integrated: far from being a kind of homage to Oguike's African roots, they are just one part of his movement palette. This is his forst commission for Rambert - one hopes there will be many more.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan