Rupert Christiansen

Touching, eclectic and exhilarating: Rambert Dance is in great shape

Plus: why I fled German Cornejo’s Wild Tango show at the interval

Touching, eclectic and exhilarating: Rambert Dance is in great shape
Rambert Dance in Ben Duke’s Cerberus. Credit: Camilla Greenwell
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Rambert Dance

Sadler’s Wells, and touring until 1 June

German Cornejo’s Wild Tango

Peacock Theatre

Rambert ages elegantly: it might just rank as the world’s oldest company devoted to modern dance (whatever that term might mean nowadays), but as it approaches its centenary, it’s still in great shape. Lean and hungry, open-minded and light-footed, it’s been lucky over the past 40 years to have enjoyed a stable succession of excellent artistic directors – Richard Alston, Christopher Bruce, Mark Baldwin and now the French-American Benoit Swan Pouffer – as well as policies that have healthily prevented it from becoming fixated on one choreographer or aesthetic. It keeps moving.

The current ensemble of 17 dancers makes a crack team, offering a broad range of body types and plenty of strong, fearless personalities. The triple bill they are presenting on the spring tour (finishing in Brighton at the end of this month) is typically eclectic in tone and idiom and they execute it with exhilarating panache: you feel that you could throw them anything and they’d run with it.

Imre and Marne van Opstal’s Eye Candy seemed to me a meditation on animation –how the limp and robotic, the marionette, the avatar and the corpse, can be stimulated into human life. With the cast body-stocking naked, vulnerability, fragility and exposure are evoked: at the climax comes the haunting image of a woman standing defiantly upright but touchingly insecure on a man’s hunched back. Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream is a more conventional suite, flecked with references to Balanchine and smartly crafted: it doesn’t quite rise to its stated goal of providing joy, though it is danced with mounting energy.

In the evening’s centre comes Ben Duke’s whimsical ‘meta-comedy’ Cerberus. There’s a lot of spoken dialogue here, handled with aplomb by Antonello Sangirardi and Alex Soulliere, but not much in the way of dancing – the premise being that a member of Rambert (Aishwarya Raut) has gone missing and is presumed dead, but is perhaps only lurking in her dressing room. In an expedition with echoes of Alice in Wonderland and L’Ange exterminateur, the troupe set out to brave the guardian dog Cerberus and visit the underworld to find her, tied together on a long rope. I quite enjoyed the silliness of it all, especially as it didn’t drag on or make any claims to profundity.

Scheduled for Rambert’s autumn is a dance drama based on Peaky Blinders that might just prove a smash hit. My one wish, as an instinctive conservative, is that programming paid a little more attention to the company’s more distant heritage – one revival every season, perhaps? It would be a shame if the work of Antony Tudor, Glen Tetley and Paul Taylor, for instance, just faded into oblivion while there were still people around to transmit it.

Tango should be a hotly seductive ritual. No dance form is more predicated on close physical contact: the slithering of silky fabrics and sweaty flesh; a mating with prolonged foreplay, now slow and caressing, now fast and fierce. It can be absolutely enthralling when performed by the old and plump, but it requires a peculiarly Latin sense of rhythm and dignity. Watch septuagenarian Carlos and Maria Rivarola to see how it should be done.

My hopes ran high for Wild Tango when I read that it was devised by German Cornejo ‘world champion of tango dancing 2005’ and featured his regular partner Gisela Galeassi, ‘tango world champion (2003)’. It was also tantalising to be reminded by a voiceover that the origins of tango were homosocial –farmworkers on the pampas dancing together for want of women.

But what emerged was simply ghastly. For its first 40 purgatorial minutes, there was nothing more than a vulgar rock concert with elements of gyrating disco, jive, flamenco and circus acrobatics in an environment suggesting a leathery sex dungeon. A few minutes of middle-aged Cornejo and Galeassi strutting their stuff in classic style was ruined by punishingly banal music and lighting effects. I suppose in Argentina the kids consider tango wearily jejune and this constitutes an effort to jazz it up and make it more ‘accessible’ to youth. Never a good idea.

The show may have suddenly improved or transformed in the second half, but since I fled at the interval I am unable to comment. Tango had been traduced, and it made me feel nauseous.