In our recent embrace of ballet, one company who have remained unseen was the Rambert Company but that was remedied a week ago when we went to Sadler's Wells to see the company in THE CREATION, a momentous work which celebrated 90 years of the company's existence.
It is remarkable to consider the impact of Serge Diaghilev's Ballet Russes on the history of British ballet. Marie Rambert - who first became interested in dance after seeing Isadora Duncan - had danced and helped choreograph Ballet Russes productions between 1912-13 before leaving to set up her own ballet company - now the oldest company in Britain - and, as such, was able to offer fellow-Diaghilev dancers Alicia Markova and Anton Dolin contracts when the Ballet Russes disbanded following the impresario's death in 1929.
At about the same time, another Diaghilev dancer Ninette de Valois was staging dances for Lilian Baylis, the owner of the Old Vic, for both her Shakespeare productions, and later full-length ballets both at the Vic and at Baylis' recently-acquired theatre, Sadler's Wells. In 1931, Markova and Dolin moved to de Valois' company and four years later, left to set up their own company. These four performers would have a profound effect on British ballet: Markova and Dolin's company was the basis for English National Ballet; Ninette de Valois's company grew into the Royal Ballet, while Rambert's kept her name front and centre, as Ballet Rambert and now just Rambert.
Several of Marie Rambert's ideas still drive the company - close collaboration between choreographer, composer and designer; the concept of perpetual movement, and also a real commitment to touring and bringing dance to those who might not ordinarily experience it through both productions and local workshops for both young and old.
The concept of perpetual movement was certainly alive on the stage of Sadler's Wells - constant waves of dancers swept across the stage either solos, in duets or as a company, it was all the more impressive as THE CREATION was a massive production: the Rambert performing company, the current students at the Rambert School of Contemporary Dance and Ballet, the Rambert Orchestra as well as three opera singers and the BBC Singers choir - it meant a curtain call for about 100 performers!
Mark Baldwin's choreography was certainly rigorous but I found it all rather uninvolving, one can admire the technique in the performers but it rarely connected emotionally. Haydn's score was certainly sweeping and provided all the emotion that was rather lacking in the choreography - maybe a bit too much in the first act which found me nodding as the music swept around the auditorium.
The ensemble was undoubtedly talented but few stood out from the herd, Pierre Tappon being an exception to this rule. The three opera singers were certainly in good voice and the Rambert orchestra sounded wonderful under the baton of Paul Hoskins.
Rambert is known for creating new work in close collaboration with composer, choreographer and designer - but I would dearly love to know how Pablo Bronstein arrived at the frankly bizarre costumes the dancers wore - the black leotard number with the white neck and wrist ruffs put me in mind of The Second Generation doing a featured spot on a 1970s BBC variety show dancing to a disco version of "Greensleeves".
The leotard also came in a grey material which also had tufts of the undershirt pulled through slits in the front suggesting that ol' classic Tudor style. This also proved more distracting than evocative... even with the daisies on the ankles. Bronstein's standing set of a stone church ornamental inner arch was fascinating to look at but eventually it proved too monumental to lend itself to nuance. Mark Henderson's lighting design however was very evocative.
Well, that's the Rambert duck broken... here's to the next one...