Rambert Dance, Sadler’s Wells, London

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In celebration of its 80th birthday, the Rambert Dance Company has opened a week’s season at Sadler’s Wells with what must be the worst evening I have known with the troupe in my long years of admiring it.

Of course there have been bad moments in the past, but none so misbegotten, so graceless, and so dismissive of the company’s past as this parade of the inadequate, the over-blown, the coarsely self-indulgent.

That we were offered as hors d’oeuvre two numbing pieces of apprentice choreography was unfortunate. Both had an anxious air (as well they might!). One – Martin Joyce’s Divine Influence – offered a couple being hyper-roguish in white skirts to the presto from Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata; the other, Cameron MacMillan’s Verge, involved dim encounters between five women on chairs and three men wearing Y-fronts and a single sock, while a tiresome sound-track of gasps and clankings went its foolish way.

There followed Lady into Fox, a title taken from an important ballet by Andrée Howard, first seen in 1939 and adapted from David Garnett’s novella, whose title tells all. It starred Sally Gilmour, one of the greatest, most sensitive of Rambert artists. It boasted superb design by Nadia Benois, Honegger piano music, and Howard’s dances exquisitely probing the character of Mrs Tebrick, who becomes a vixen. All these have gone in this crass remake.

Using an incomplete silent film of the work, Mark Baldwin, Rambert’s director, has confected a brutish narrative that borrows steps from Howard, but not their relationship to their music. He has had the piece designed by Michael Howells as a display of Perspex furniture amid pendant yards of Spanish moss, (so like rural England) with, for Mrs Tebrick, a costume unflattering and unconvincing, and has acquired a new score from Benjamin Pope. What I disbelievingly saw were trumpery dramatics, danced with an entire lack of sensitivity or credibility. I think it a defamation of Rambert’s glorious past.

The evening ends with Darshan Singh Bhuller’s commentary on the world of L.S. Lowry, set to Bartók’s sonata for two pianos and percussion. Bhuller explores Lowry’s world through trudging lines of dancers and some gymnastic showing-off. There result energetic performances, and the score, well-played, unconcerned, going its own tremendous way. One star, for Alexander Whitley’s vivid dancing in Lady into Fox.
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