Did we go for the pints or the pirouettes? The unique atmosphere of the Rambert River Stage Takeover did not add to the performance … until they started taking their clothes off.
The River Stage Festival has been nestling in one corner of the Southbank, outside the National Theatre for the majority of August. Some of Britain’s brightest talent has graced the stage in a series of weekend “takeovers”, using the inevitable summer visitors as a passing audience. This weekend Rambert displays some of its youngest members and newest works to this audience, starting on a very windy Friday night.
“it was impressive to see an audience engage with quite complex dance in such a nonchalant manner”
Deckchairs, benches and bean bags were full well before the beginning of the performance, as one would expect on a Friday night in central London. With pints in almost every hand, I was unsure as to whether this audience was here to watch the dance or were lucky enough to stumble across it. There were children, families, young professionals and senior citizens, all enjoying an evening out. Although not always necessarily watching the action on stage, it was clear that the performance was inspiring conversations (and even a few actions) about the nature of contemporary choreography.
Rambert’s audition-only youth dance company, Quicksilver, performed the first piece, Kenesis. The elements of suspension and magnetism were clearly demonstrated in both the solo and group elements of the choreography. The opening solo in particular demonstrated this and set the scene for a fast-paced and tense piece. The passages of duet work moved between same-sex partnerships, female supporting male partnerships, and a variety of other combinations, which meant that the focus was centred on movement rather than individuals. It was reactionary, fluid and lived up to its kinetic title.
As the music increased in speed and volume, the movements of the dancers became sharper and more coordinated. These sections were not always as synchronised as they could have been, but this could be in some way excused by the rather distracting setting. The canon, performed as part of this section, was however, especially effective, and brought the individuality of all five dancers to the fore. All the young dancers, aged between 16 and 19, were clearly talented and embodied the Rambert style, however, the pedant in me was hoping that some individuals had used their extension just a little more. The piece ended with, as might have been predicted, the same soloist and movement as at the start of the piece, displaying an overall well-rounded and professional work.
Another performance to highlight was an extract from New Movement Collective’s Collapse, originally performed in 2016 in collaboration with ScanLAB projects and cellist, Oliver Coates. This was the penultimate performance of the night, and with the evening in full swing all around; it would have been easy to miss the four, formally dressed dancers take to the stage. The piece opened with music from a solo cello and the dancers at the four corners of the stage. The first segment was almost Regency in style; the baroque cello solo and the orchestra-style costumes, as well coordinated and synchronised movement, was an unexpected beginning to the piece. As the music became more eclectic, the movement became fluid, as the dancers twisted around each other.
The notion of “collapse” was prominent throughout the piece. The collapse itself almost always took place in the setting of a lift or support, leading the audience to find a story in the couples’ display of trust. As the music changed again, one couple took the place of the spectator whilst the other took centre stage. Slowly but surely, the couple began to undress each other through a series of impressive twists, and balances. The revelling audience fell quiet. Left only in streamlined black, the piece took a suspenseful turn. Unclear whether the writhing and leaping was violent or sexual, the audience murmured amongst themselves. However, as the couple supported each other in the collapse, and even breathed with synchronicity, it was clear that they were in love. This beautiful, lyrical moment was however, brought to an abrupt end by the entrance of the other couple, who delivered clothes before all four exited the stage. It left its audience almost pining for more.
As the sun was setting on a busy Southbank, it was impressive to see an audience engage with quite complex dance in such a nonchalant manner. The takeover will continue until Sunday evening, with many opportunities to interact and watch Rambert’s wide-ranging dance groups. I would certainly recommend a visit as a way to spend a summer weekend – you may end up seeing something that you weren’t expecting.
Image: James Bellorini