Eternal Light

Rambert Dance Company
Bath Theatre Royal
(2008)

Eternal Light production photo

Hot on the heels of a revival by the English National Ballet of Kenneth MacMillan's Manon, which fetched up as part of a national tour at Bristol Hippodrome, comes a piece of 'light' entertainment by the Rambert Dance Company.

The contrast between the two productions could hardly be starker. Where Manon is a sumptuously-styled and supremely elegant traditional work set in France during the 18th century, Eternal Light offers three contemporary pieces one of which takes as its theme torture, against crashing electronic beats.

First up though is the eponymous and longest of the three pieces, Eternal Light, which is concerned with death and remembrance. Commissioned by Sadlers Wells and choreographed by Mark Baldwin, Rambert's artistic director, Light draws on ideas inspired by Gericault's The Raft of the Medusa and Pontormo's The Deposition from the Cross, as well as a variety of writing.

These include poems by Ann Thorp ("I have to believe that you exist somewhere"); Days of Terror by John McCrae ("In Flanders Fields the poppies blow, upon the crosses row on row") and, most movingly, That Day of Weeping by Mary Elizabeth Frye ("Do not stand at my grave and weep").

The music is composed by Howard Goodall and performed live by a small ensemble; Bath Camerata and soloists Julia Doyle and Ronan Collett.

While the ten pieces, performed by 20-strong company, are ostensibly a requiem, informed by a sense of love and loss, there is too a sense of rapture, alluded to by the choreographer, most notably in the piece, In Paradisum, in which a large black bird joins in elegiac dance against a large waxing moon.

The mood changes abruptly with Swansong, a 'bird' of a very different hue, choreographed by Christopher Bruce and dedicated to Amnesty International. Taking as its theme torture and interrogation, the piece, which features two guards and a prisoner, features recorded electronic music by Philip Chambon.

As with Pinter, this pas de trios is both menacing - I was minded of Scott Walker's song The Electrician, also about torture, ("baby it's slow when lights go low/there's no help, no") - and blackly humorous, the little showbiz dance steps performed by the guards prior to the start of the 'interrogation' proper.

The piece is brilliantly performed by Eryck Brahmania (victim) and Miguel Altunuaga and Renaud Wiser and the exit by the victim at the last into light stage right while his tormentors remain frozen suggests an ultimate victory.

Finally, and for me the best of all, is Infinity, choreographed by Garry (COR) Stewart which begins with a almost stately dance by a quartet around whom bodies whirl and roll to the sound of industrial beats and drones and what looks like red dust slowly falls from the ceiling to accumulate in small heaps.

The music is provided by Luke Smiles and the effect overall is simply stunning. Bath is very fortunate to be one of only three stops on a UK tour.

Reviewer: Pete Wood