A motif of exploration binds the three pieces in Rambert’s latest triple bill: Ashley Page’s Subterrain delves into the ins and outs of human intimacy, Mark Baldwin’s The Strange Charm of Mother Nature charts the random ride that is particle physics, and Shobana Jeyasingh’s new work Terra Incognita sees a crew of adventurers hunt for new terrain. Together the works show off contemporary technique at its best – the dancing is expert, handsome, elegant – but the bill leaves a lot to be desired. All three pieces overextend themselves in length (and in the case of the second one, speed), and at nearly three hours long, the evening proves a slow-moving one – too slow-moving for some, judging by the number of abandoned seats on opening night following the second 20-minute interval.
Still, there’s a lot to love about the programme’s choreography, which despite its tendency to meander makes great use of the dancers’ admirable strength and skill. Where Subterrain excels is its marriage of soft and sharp: melting extensions end with crisp flicks of the feet; round curves unfold into jarring tilts. There’s a good degree of chemistry between each of the five couples on display, and they tackle the tricky music’s gradual shift from playful to frenzied with all the grace of a bounding herd of gazelles. The pacing, however, is stilted: as a viewer you’ve no real sense of where you are in the piece, and just when it seems like it’s nearing the end, a black scrim is lifted to usher in an unexpected final phrase.
The Strange Charm of Mother Nature starts out as a warm and cheery piece – a welcome departure from the cold, clinical treatment given to other science-oriented ballets of late, like Wayne McGregor’s Atomos. The dancers frolic through a whirl of sprightly leaps and turns, colliding with and reacting to one another like bubbles in a can of fizz. The transition from Stravinsky to Bach music buoys the sunny tone, but the subsequent shift to Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s tense Quark Dances is a confusing touch that has the unfortunate effect of ebbing away at it. It’s around this point that the pace of choreography too goes downhill: the dancers preserve their fantastic lines, but in the end they just can’t keep count with the lightning-speed steps set out.
While the crowd’s energy had waned significantly by the time Terra Incognita debuted, the dancers put forward a vigorous face. The piece casts a band of explorers, clad in muted tones, into a landscape bristling with beastly howls and the suspense of the unknown. There’s darting and sliding, plus a good bit of purposeful striding à la Martha Graham. The gender-neutral dancing is an intriguing touch – the men and women largely support each other’s weight equally – and the work charts a lot of interesting territory choreography-wise: one of its brightest moments recasts a small group as a scenic structure and sees one dancer climb over their shoulders like a mountaineer traversing a jagged cliff face. Factor in the Gabriel Prokofiev score, which is overlaid with a clomping, tribal beat, and it’s an electrifying performance. Were it not coupled with two other protracted pieces, perhaps it would have resounded more with the weary audience.