Eternal Light Tour 2009

Rambert Dance Company
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring
(2009)

Hush production photo

Rambert's spring 2009 tour has a repertoire of eight pieces, of which three were performed at the Theatre Royal: the eponymous Eternal Light, choreographed by Mark Baldwin; Christopher Bruce's Hush and Siobhan Davies' Carnival of the Animals.

Eternal Light's full title is Eternal Light: A Requiem and it is a colloborative creation between choreographer Baldwin, composer Howard Goodall and designer Michael Howells. Based on the traditional Mass for the Dead, it is a "requiem for the living", intended to bring solace to those who mourn. Goodall has taken the Latin mass structure - Requiem, Kyrie, Dies Illa Lacrymosa, Dies Irae, Recordare, Agnus Dei and In Paradisum - and interpolated a section entitled Revelation (which appears twice), an extract (in Latin) from the Biblical Book of Revelation. In most he uses a short phrases from the Mass and contrasts them with a poem. For the Lacrymosa, for example, he uses "Do not stand at my gave and weep" and, for the Dies Irae, "In Flanders fields the poppies blow". Also inserted into the traditional text are Ann Thorp's poem "I have to believe that you still exist, somewhere" and Newman's hymn "Lead, kindly light".

If, by some odd edict of the gods of criticism, I were to be restricted to one word to describe this piece, that word would be "elevating". The music, movement and design fuse to produce a piece which does what is surely the aim of the Requiem Mass, to comfort those who mourn and raise their eyes above their loss.

Baldwin's choreography, danced by a company of 21, is at times lyrical and elegiac and at others (especially in the two Revelations sections) almost threatening, even tortured. It reflects the music, as the music reflects the words, and all are bound together by Howells' design, from the mainly white (but with the occasional addition of significant colour) costumes to the setting, mainly a plain, bare stage with black backdrop and wing flats, but in two places augmented by additions: in the Dies Irae the lowering from the flies of rows of silver crosses which hover above the dancers' heads, grim but inspirational reminders of "between the crosses, row on row", and, at the end, the brilliant sun-like circle of light which throws those who pass in front of it into almost silhouette.

If this review seems to give equal weight to the dance, the music and the design, then that is entirely appropriate, for the collaborative process which created the piece has worked so well that it is impossible to separate them.

The music is performed by the London Musici and there are two soloists, soprano Tamsin Coombs and baritone Adrian Powter, supported by the wonderful local choir, the Tees Valley Youth Choir. In a performance in which everything seemed to come together seamlessly, they were as responsible for the success of the piece as the creative team and the dancers.

For the second piece, the Newcastle audience had a most unexpected treat, the UK premiere of Christopher Bruce's Hush (which was premiered by the Houston Ballet in 2006). With music by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo-Ma, this is a "celebration of life - from youth to old age". Performed by six dancers, it is fun and funny - and very perceptive in its portrayal of a family of three children, one teenager and their parents. They're a circus family, but that's almost irrelevant: they have the same life as the rest of us.

Like all of Bruce's work, it is very accessible and is almost (but not quite) narrative. Its quirky humour is rather reminiscent of his Rooster, with just a (very slight) touch of darkness. Made up of a series of interactions between the various family members, its demanding choreography kep the audience involved (and laughing). For me the high point - perhaps I should say "highest", for otherwise there might be a suggestion of a "lowest", and there wasn't - was the duet between the father and young daughter which culminates with her hanging upside down from a "trapeze" formed by her brothers.

The audience loved it, and so did I.

The evening ends with Siobhan Davies' 1982 Carnival of the Animals to the music of Saint-Saëns. It's another amusing piece, reflecting well the humour of Saint-Saëns' music. The eight dancers, in various combinations, take on the movement (and often the physical) characteristics of the animals, from the lumbering elephant to the graceful swan and including both fish and pianists! In this, as in the other two pieces, the dancers' enjoyment in what they are doing and their boundless energy and great skill come over clearly, and there was a real buzz of excitement and pleasure from the audience as they left the theatre.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan