sun 09/08/2020

The Art of Touch/ Awakenings/ Cardoon Club, Rambert Dance, Wycombe Swan | reviews, news & interviews

The Art of Touch/ Awakenings/ Cardoon Club, Rambert Dance, Wycombe Swan

The Art of Touch/ Awakenings/ Cardoon Club, Rambert Dance, Wycombe Swan

Golden baroque and psychedelic camp on a girls' night out

But there is no need to be PC about it. If the commission - Awakenings, by Aletta Collins, based on Dr Oliver Sacks’s celebrated book - doesn’t come to life on stage, Henrietta Horn’s Cardoon Club is a brilliant spot by Rambert director Mark Baldwin, a 2004 piece from the Pina Bausch stable that gives Rambert a killer finish for the night, with some eyewatering design and an infectious score.

Last night's absorbing bill started with the grave beauty that is Siobhan Davies’s The Art of Touch, a 1995 work that like so many of hers I find richer and more revealing on every viewing. Set in a golden wall, bathed in gold light, costumed in dark turquoise shimmers, this is a playful, emotional marriage of responsive choreography to assertive music (Scarlatti harpsichord sonatas, gradually modified and sampled by Matteo Fargion).

siobhan_davies_touchOver her 25-odd year career, Davies has always cherished in her choreography the details that many lesser modern choreographers turned their backs on, the swift grace-notes of bare toes shaking in the air or flicking the ground like paintbrushes, and the specific interest of certain hand gestures (picture right, Hugo Glendinning), and with this piece she draws on the image of the plucking of quill against string inside the harpsichord. The first requirement is a fine harpsichordist, and Carole Cerasi was that last night, romping through the cascades and waterfalls of five Scarlatti sonatas and then the wary night-watches of Fargion’s Sette Canzoni, infecting any dancer with ears to hear to respond physically to a wealth of textural delight.

There are moments that contain human stories, the art of touch equally applying to the art of loving. There is a gentle, sensual duet where a man touches a woman’s stomach, and you feel drawn into a private conversation between a couple expecting their first child; and more than one occasion when an individual breaks out of the line to make their own statement, while the corps de ballet (as it were) decide whether to follow. But much of the time the seven dancers seem simply representatives of the seven notes of the tonic scale, and their finale, lining up in an upward scale, seems to conclude that this is primarily a sumptuous dance about music.

The range of individuals such as tall, liberated Pieter Symonds, or small, mercurial Estela Merlos, or the muscular and authoritative Miguel Altunaga, all expressing such different personality within this exact choreography, showed how much depth for dancing there is in Davies’s beautiful work. Much kudos to David Buckland and Ian Beswick for the breathtaking setting and lighting.

My problem with Awakenings is largely that it tries so hard to be “about” something

For Collins to follow Davies was a hard call, and my problem with Awakenings is largely that it tries so hard to be “about” something. Dr Sacks’s stories of people petrified in sleep for years are fascinating mysteries, but Collins and her composer, Tobias Picker, seem to me to be prisoners of the need to make narrative and mood, rather than dance and music.

Awakenings_6_c_Eric_RichmondIt’s full of ideas, as yet undigested lumps of ingredients. Picker’s music plays with Tourette’s tics or metaphors of freeze and sudden starts, just as Collins does in the choreography for the stageful of white-suited figures. There are shivers, peculiar walks and various physical dis-coordinations that may well perfectly illustrate symptoms. But what’s missing is the letting go of the pages, the flight into the imagination, the equivalent choreographic fascination with the individuals that Sacks evidently felt as their physician.

The mirrored floor (if you are lucky enough to sit above the stage) hints at the parallel existence, and Jonathan Goddard musters all his considerable charisma and litheness in his twitchy incarnation of the central patient (pictured left, by Eric Richmond). Oddly, I thought of Bounce’s hip-hop version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which for all its flaws did hint at a less reverent, more instinctual connection between dance’s subtextual expressiveness and the mystery of mental states. Then I thought about a couple of other choreographers who cannot help drawing personal emotion into their dance language, or genuinely exploring the world of dis-coordination, Andrew Dawson, Henri Oguike, Jonathan Burrows. While Collins did a great job of the dances for the mechanical waitresses in ENO’s Chinese-restaurant Turandot, they were ciphers, whereas this is far more disorientating territory.

After the dark stage and cold twitchy white figures, shimmering bead curtains, come-to-bed light, and a lady in a very short lilac sequinned dress and green wig - but above all, very long stiletto-sharp fingernails which she splays in the air. Cardoon Club is a kookie and psychedelic blast, like a hideously mixed Tequila Sunrise, and continues the recent Rambert tradition of OTT closers.

A Hammond organ pumps a tune for her hips to enjoy, over a bluegrass-picking bass guitar. It’s a Seventies boîte de nuit that promises some wit. The bead curtains are gathered into insubstantial fairy pillars at the front, while the grenadine glow behind the nether beads and a kind of mist over the pale floor makes it all faintly discombobulating. Slinky, menacing club creatures prance on, silhouetted against the pink light, half Barbie Doll, half Persuaders (RIP Tony Curtis), with sculpted ponytails and frizzed Afros, all bearing these lethally long nail extensions, and all moving very slowly to a languidly pulsating musical number of rustling cymbals and a throbbing double bass.

Old black cracked voices sing the blues through the speakers, green-lit figures stalk through apricot glows, and the nail extensions get their own dance. Henrietta Horn titled the piece “Artichoke in a Silver Sea” for its original incarnation in 2004 at Bausch’s Folkwang Studio, where she was co-director. Changing the vegetable to a cardoon adds secret clues (it is a wild artichoke with very spiky leaves, pale purple flowers and apparently a "very sexy" taste), but probably best just to eat what you're given rather than analyse it. Besides, the updating for Rambert to the delicious badlands of Seventies camp - created by Michael Howells, John Galliano’s set designer - brings all sorts of witty extras for a younger British audience.

The result is a moreish cocktail of several of my own favourite flavours, of Pina Bausch, Kill Bill, David Lynch TV and Seventies concept albums. It goes on too long, but I'm happy to OD on the Hammond organ, late-night jazz and shades of Yes in Benjamin Pope’s seductive score, caressed with vigour by the Rambert Orchestra under Paul Hoskins.

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