Rambert pick from the palette of their repertoire in this quadruple bill – three ensemble pieces punctuated in the middle by a semi colon; a short oddball solo based around the sound of words.
The subject of love dominates the evening’s first half, in all its shapes and sizes, simultaneous agony and ecstasy, its clean starkness and lush indulgence. Marguerite Donlon’s Labyrinth of Love is a mini-opera-ballet set amid a changing landscape of bodies, harnessed at the heart by Sarah Gabriel’s glorious soprano voice. As she walks the stage, singing love poems by or about women, written over the course of 2000 years, the ensemble break from a unifying, shape-shifting mass, into duets and quartets, sometimes only their torsos visible, the rest of them hidden behind screens showing smoke, stars or fire.
To the melody of an Elizabeth Barrett Browning sonnet, a woman rises impossibly tall among the men, bending them to her tune before being swirled around by one of them. A meditation on Elizabeth Taylor’s troubled relationship with Richard Burton pours emotion into Estela Merlos’s solo, her limbs manipulated by a pack of men, her body churning through air. Sometimes the poetry is replaced by a soundtrack of wind or water-scapes; with these passages comes a deeper union of movement and sound, a sense that the body doesn’t directly represent either music or text, but instead is pure feeling, a breath or a noise.
Paul Taylor’s 1985 piece, Roses, continues the love-theme, albeit in more pared-down style. A dark turquoise backdrop, long swooshing black dresses of the women and the muted tones the men wear suggest something simultaneously plain and raw beneath the surface of contented coupledom. Five pairs take turns centre stage in pas de deux that bring swooping arabesques and harmoniously curved arms into playful backflips over one another’s bodies. Reclining in casual intimacy they all watch as a couple in white emerge. The backdrop shifting to gold, this angelic duo’s poise is impossibly beautiful, the stretch of their necks, the curl of her back as he lifts her above his head echoing fairytale grand pas de deux. Are they an ideal, the distilled essence of love, or is there something slightly cold about their purity and perfection?
Playfully shifting the tone, Dutiful Ducks by Richard Alston is an ode to the sound of words: wiggly ones, long stretched ones, ones that spiral and ones – such as ‘Bangkok’ – that jump. Against this backdrop of nonsensical phrases, Dane Hurst performs a tight solo, which, though short, sets the tone for a Merce Cunningham finale full of joyous contradictions.
Backed by regal folds of gold, Sounddance starts with just one dancer, tentative, exploratory: the atom splits, more emerge, one by one, until a quadrille of pendulum swings and wriggling torsos evolves. Soon ten dancers are creating wide brushstrokes, their gold top halves blending with the backcloth. David Tudor’s score is both womb-like and electronic – sometimes it sounds like the jungle, sometimes a machine. Similarly the dance flits between android-mechanical and organic-animalistic, scattered randomness disguising its precision. Moving effortlessly from emotional to abstract, Rambert’s vocabulary is broad, their physical voice filled with grace and perception.