An awesome and hilarious display: Rambert's Rooms reviewed

17 April 2021

9:00 AM

17 April 2021

9:00 AM

Rambert: Rooms

Impermanence Presents: One More Edit, until 25 April

Social distancing continues to put the kibosh on large-scale productions, but Jo Stromgren has a nifty workaround in Rooms, which sees Rambert’s 17 dancers tackle 100 characters between them, giving the impression of a huge ensemble piece. The new show — part dance, part theatre — remakes the same few rooms over and over to present 36 ‘choreographic miniatures’, each with its own elaborate set-up. Zipping through this funhouse is a trip from the ordinary to the surreal and back again, with glimpses of dinner parties, crime scenes, radio segments, cannabis farms, raves, protests and more. It’s an imaginative feat of staging that’s all the more impressive for being performed and streamed in real time.

Intimations of horror and violence — a dead body here, a suicide attempt there — rub shoulders with blasts of comedy, both daffy (witness a naked Simone Damberg Würtz sneaking out of her lover’s bed when his girlfriend shows up) and black (a delivery guy interrupting a funeral to swap out the urn for the right one). Scenes occasionally lapse into one another, but the composition is loose, with as many blunt shifts as there are winks and callbacks.

Stromgren threads dance casually across the work, calling on the luscious, muscular brio Rambert does so well. One of the best sequences flits between three shadowy dining rooms in which near-nude dancers ripple like chiaroscuros come alive. Lights flash and limbs cascade. It’s emblematic of the show’s absurdist sensibility that just when the beauty becomes unbearable, one of the groups furnishes a naked baby doll, drawing it into the fold like an extra cast member.

A breakneck montage of sirens and Bollywood scarves rockets us towards a side-splitting finale that loops in every character who’s yet appeared, from cheerleaders to cultists to King Kong. Silliness and brutality jostle for position as the action — performed in scrupulous slow motion — descends into chaos, guns (and violins and frying pans and other makeshift weapons) blazing. It was hard not to feel awed by the coordination at work. The stagehands must have been sweating as hard as the dancers to pull this off.

From experimental outfit Impermanence comes One More Edit, a set of ten new dance films commissioned in partnership with the Bristol Old Vic. Most are just a few minutes long, including Valerie Ebuwa’s Body Data, a wistful, forthright solo performed nude. It’s shot with minimal intervention, unlike Karni & Saul’s Goldfish, which creates the illusion of a giant woman stuck in a suburban house, her knees askew as she writhes against the windows. Elver by Isla Badenoch and Tom Ridley is the most cinematic of the bunch — a black-and-white woodland traipse with moody lens flares and lyrical sashays.

I was drawn to the projects filmed in dramatic locations, especially In Spirit, In Reality, which sends Irfan Setiawan bolting through a tropical village, striking gorgeous poses in profile amid the concrete and palm trees. Dancing to Art has an arresting backdrop in the Tate Britain gallery, the members of Corali, all artists with learning disabilities, interpreting various artworks with sprightly contemporary dance.

It’s all a bit serious with the exception of I Have Never Seen This, which asks eight dancers in different settings — living rooms, gardens, studios and more — to film themselves improvising to a voice recording by Mary Mannion, who toggles between explicit instructions (‘The dancer will move their right foot and their left foot in a way that doesn’t show up in everyday life’) and witty ruminations (‘The root of suffering is the giving of fucks, and we’re not here to suffer’). The results are as delightful as they are diverse: some greet the assignment with care and gravitas, while others lose their game face at her eccentric directives (‘Don’t forget to move your fucking head, please’). An interlude set to ‘Like a Prayer’ is a surprise highlight.

Rounding off the collection is Edits Film from Marisa Zanotti, who splices footage of rehearsals for a work by Lea Anderson with a recording of its final performance. Anderson’s production is based on the 1972 film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, and casts six men in drag to play a fashionista and her glamorous coterie. Without seeing the show in full, it’s hard to grasp the thesis of this ‘poetic document’, but the choreography we do see — throbbing formations on a catwalk-style stage — gestures at the idea of womanhood as performance, an identity you can embellish or disguise with the right accessories.

One of the dancers mentions the transformative sensation of physically donning a dress for the role, a comment I’d love to see plumbed further. The visuals are sharp but the message less so.

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