Rambert Dance: Labyrinth of Love

20 Mar 2013 in Dance & Drama, Highland, Showcase

Empire Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, 19 March 2013

COMBINING dance with digital media is often attempted but rarely succeeds as well as it does in Labyrinth of Love, the work which opened Rambert’s welcome return to Inverness and gave its name to this tour.

A PARTITIONED backdrop of back projection screen hangs behind what can only be described as a bar counter, itself fronted with screens, on which are projected images responding to the sung text.

Labyrinth of Love (photo © Chris Nash)

Labyrinth of Love (photo © Chris Nash)

Kirsty Hopkins, soprano, sings words written by or about women and love spanning the last two and a half millennia. She also moves, and decorously dances, sometimes partnered. It’s a glorious voice, a bravura performance; and yet completely integrated into the whole.

At first the moving backdrop is a little distracting but as the images dim and evolve elementally and poetically – earth, air, fire, water, moon, smoke, cloud, stars – its simple elegance proves its worth. Although the texts include Sappho, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson, the lyric that stands out is composer Daugherty’s own ‘Liz’s Lament’, a regretful monologue for Elizabeth Taylor about her relationship with Richard Burton;“my husband….my ex-husband…I can’t remember which”.

For this, the backdrop shows rocks and pebbles tumbling and falling – and in amongst them, one huge, brilliant-cut diamond. A lovely touch, one amongst many,

Labyrinth is an excellent showcase for the physicality and musicality of the dancers. The choreography, and the company’s delivery of it, throughout this work is as good as anything you’re likely to see this year and enchants everyone within earshot of this reviewer’s seat.

After a short interval, Monolith, by Tim Rushton with music by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks is, however, the outstanding work of the evening. The design is pure, simple and exquisite. The choreography is punishing, full of abrupt transitions from fast to slow, flowing to static, smooth to angular, requiring – and getting – superb technique from the company. This is a world-class piece and a world-class performance and fully justifies Rambert’s claim to be the UK’s premier contemporary dance company.

The final third of the programme affectionately revives the version of Nijinsky’s L’Apres-midi d’un faune originated by Marie Rambert herself in the 1930s and maintained in the repertoire for decades afterwards. The costumes are Bakst’s designs brought to three dimensional life. The lush sweetness of Debussy’s music contrasts with Nijinsky’s succession of hieratic moves and static poses designed to evoke ancient bas-reliefs. How shocking it must have been on its first showing in 1912! Now it has the quaint, engaging charm of a silent movie.

It’s paired with Mark Baldwin’s response to it, made on the company with a commissioned contemporary score by Gavin Higgins and designed by Michael Howells in a style that could be described as “Sgt Pepper’s Stag Night at a Rave”. There is a collective gasp and murmur from the audience as the curtain rises to reveal three huge wasps suspended over the stage. We are, according to the programme, in the Forest of Dean, although many of the energetic moves recall native dances from North America and (perhaps) Baldwin’s native Fiji.

Once again the company draws on its seemingly endless reserves of stamina and skill, as do its excellent musicians.

It’s good to finish dance reviews at Northings with a show, and a company, of such excellence.

© Jennie Macfie, 2013