Dark Arteries Triple Bill

Choreography by Alexander Whitley, Lucinda Childs, Mark Baldwin
Rambert
Sadler's Wells

Dark Arteries Credit: Johan Persson
Julia Gillespie and Miguel Altunaga in Dark Arteries Credit: Johan Persson
Frames Credit: Tristram Kenton
Frames Credit: Tristram Kenton
Liam Francis and Brenda Lee Grech in Dark Arteries Credit: Johan Persson
Estela Merlos and Adam Blyde in Four Elements Credit: Benedict Johnson

Two premières, one London one world, separated by Lucinda Childs’s deliriously hypnotic Four Elements from 1990 to music by Gavin Bryars, presented by busy Rambert, styling itself ‘Britain’s National Dance Company’: artistic director Mark Baldwin is justly proud of his company.

Alexander Whitley’s Frames opens the evening with a forty-minute work that bears the imprint of Wayne McGregor, an influence he acknowledges, but I also see Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Babel (words) designed by Anthony Gormley in the architecture of the piece.

Designers Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen take the concept of construction and have the dancers build their own stage set as they dance with its metal struts and frames. A truly ingenious collaborative work, and the best thing Whitley has done so far, if a trifle overlong.

In ordinary white shirts and taupe trousers, the twelve dancers are workers at a plant, it seems. Dane Hurst dances a wonderful solo with one aluminium tube, when his reverie is rudely interrupted by a group of workers who sling their bundles of tubes with a jolting crash to the floor. This is a production line, no place for imagination.

But serious, imaginative play it is, constructive, illuminating, captivating. Geometric architecture, Constructivist / Bauhaus design—clean lines and shapes are created as the dancers interact and dance in complementary angular moves.

Daniel Bjarnason’s industrial music with its complex patterns of jarring dissonances, scratching and heavy beats underlines the theme. Maasai warriors with spears one minute, the next building their own ballets barres, the dancers’ bodies become part of the whole.

Bodies in space, couples break away—Pierre Tappon and Simone Damberg Würtz, Hurst and Brenda Lee Grech—but work must go on, the pace speeds up on the assembly line.

Hinged bars with attached lights, buttresses and lighting gantry cast long shadows, frames in fan shape make pretty pictures, and when finally all joined together rise up to embellish the bare stage and the spent dancers in frieze formation below.

Lucinda Childs’s game of chance follows, a pack of cards, dice and dominoes, grids and checks, but death deals the hand. Jennifer Bartlett’s four paintings, variations on a theme, provide additional mysterious clues.

The four elements (eight dancers) of water, earth, air and fire—interestingly earth is all female, whilst air all male—crisscross in evolving repetition, in a game of logic and stamina, but you can’t outrun destiny. Life is a treadmill, that’s for sure.

Thematically one can make a case for a link between all three pieces: Whitley’s dancers at work, Childs’s meditation on life’s elements, and Mark Baldwin’s new Dark Arteries, referencing a line from Mervyn Peake’s Rhondda Valley poem, the 1980s miners’ strike, and the 2014 film Pride, if I’m not mistaken.

The audience gasps as the curtain goes up on Tredegar Town Band, all thirty-eight of them on the stage, and quite a sight they are behind their silvery stands. Michael Howells set design carries the silver through in his steel ladders framing the stage.

Quite a sound, too, playing Gavin Higgins’s original modern composition under Ian Porthouse’s baton: not like any brass band I’ve ever heard before. The musical elements are water, earth, wind and fire: jazzy one minute, a requiem the next, tribal, dramatic, incredibly moving.

Dark Elegies is nothing like but Appalachian Spring created in 1944 by Martha Graham to Aaron Copland’s music comes to mind. Maybe it is the sense of community, the women in long dresses, tight bodices, full skirts, the channelling of Graham’s style, the serious intent.

A community (twenty dancers) riven by the strike, men shoulder to shoulder down the pit, the spirit undimmed. Men will work and women will weep—there’s something timeless about this piece. Carved of stone, they stand together, man and woman in Soviet worker pose.

Fine-tuning, some cutting, and perhaps an injection of wit would make this more of an uplifting evening, but the company is in fine form.

Reviewer: Vera Liber