Leading UK contemporary dance company, Rambert, stunned audiences at the Theatre Royal Brighton on March 1 with a trio of strikingly innovative performances.
The curtain opens on a lone man in a tattered grey suit, facing away, kneeling. In dead silence he begins to move, clawing about the stage floor, reaching, twisting and navigating the space about him. This was Flight: a dynamic exploration of movement and migration, created by choreographer, Malgorzata Dzierson.
As a tinkering of piano keys and strings edged towards a melody, the other dancers assemble on stage. While on the one hand, exploring the diversity and unity between the individuals, Flight most poignantly toys with the dynamic between people and the space they inhabit.
The backdrop splinters into several huge rectangular columns, which filter amongst the dancers. For them, these columns could be a hiding place, a frame for their self-expression or a revolving door that required pushing.
Not only the people, but the set too, keep on shifting, rotating, moving. This is a vision of the 21st century: a world always in flux, with its inhabitants always in motion.
Next was Tomorrow, a dance inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which choreographer Lucy Guerin has previously co-directed at the Young Vic.
Guerin is keen to establish Tomorrow as “a structural form rather than a retelling of the story”. If you were to watch it with no prior knowledge of Macbeth you wouldn’t understand the facts of the play, but you would feel its emotional complexity.
On one half of the stage, dancers all in black block the staging of Macbeth in reverse chronology; their movement is orderly and impassioned. On the other half, are performers in dirty white smocks, which might belong to a 1950s psychiatric ward were they not decorated with strands of what looks like long matted blond hair.
These are the witches. They flinch and convulse like one possessed, but simultaneously they are the ones doing the possessing. They reach their arms like conductors or puppeteers, orchestrating the unfurling tragedy beside them.
But these dancers represent more than the supernatural forces of Macbeth, they, through the passionate chaos of their movement, depict the psychological conflict of its protagonist.
Here is something you couldn’t get from watching the man himself; here is something genuine and devastating.
Last of all came the main event: Ghost Dances.
First created for Rambert in 1981 by Christopher Bruce, Ghost Dances is inspired by the terror experienced by South American communities under the authoritarian regimes of the 1970s and 1980s. In particular Bruce was concerned with Pinochet’s bloody military dictatorship in Chile, which emerged as a result of a coup orchestrated by the United States government.
Returning to the stage for the first time in 13 years, Ghost Dances emerges again quite appropriately at a time of increasing racial and nationalist conflict worldwide.
The dance focuses on 3 performers in terrifying skeletal masks and black and white body paint. Like predators, these omens of death immerse themselves amongst the living who dance and laugh and play in vibrant South American dress.
The performance is deeply indebted to South and Central American culture, not just in the style of music and dress of the living, but in the ghosts themselves. The imagery of the ghosts is heavily influenced by the Mexican Day of the Dead, while the idea of the ghost dancers emerged from the practices of indigenous South American communities who feared the social and ecological impact of Europeans colonialism.
The environment is central too, with luscious mountain ranges painted onto the backdrop, and the sound of the wind whistling throughout. The dance celebrates love, fun and intimacy, and laments how death has become so naturally entwined with everyday life for oppressed communities.
Rambert consistently awed the audience with precision and flair, but perhaps most of all with creativity that reimagined a spectrum of human ideas and experiences.