It’s been 13 years since Rambert last performed what is the most requested work in their history. Inspired both by the day of the dead festivals and by former dancer Joan Jara’s book Christopher Bruce’s ‘Ghost Dances’ is a dedication to the resilience and suffering of the people of Chile under the brutal oppressive dictatorship of Pinochet. Following the US CIA-backed coup in 1973 many thousands of civilians were murdered, tortured, imprisoned or went missing.
The first dance of the evening though was ‘Tomorrow’, an intriguing interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As the curtain rises a single dancer takes to the stage through a gateway of light as a light beam slowly descends to create two performance areas.
To the left neatly dressed in black the the dancers perform the narrative of the play through dance and movement. There is no text and no words are spoken. To the right, the demonic side, the witches draped in white sacking interpret the emotion, soul and underlying illusion.
The witches twitch and jerk in frenzied fashion like faulty neurotic androids contrasting wonderfully to the more efficient movements of the ‘actors’ in black.
I found myself trying to make the piece coherent by scanning from one performance area to the next but the fact the dancers in black were interpreting Macbeth in reverse made the task no less difficult! But in truth it was the contrast of movement and colour that made the whole dance gel so well together. A powerful piece of work choreographed by Lucy Guerin.
Hydrargyrum, the archaic name for Mercury, inspired the second dance choreographed by Patricia Okenwa. She has explored the character of the fluid metal - the way it flows, reflects and highlights it’s poisonous qualities.
The piece was immediately dynamic as the dancers dressed in black, faces half hidden darted and jolted with urgency to and fro across the stage to a backdrop a giant silver mirror slowly turning throughout. They twisted, jerked and leaped apart, then were magnetically drawn together again.
Then things calm, the mirror turns to white, the black attire discarded and the figures, appearing almost naked, hypnotise us with more gentle movements and stunning sculptural shapes to bring the dance to a stunning conclusion. An extraordinary performance.
Then to the showstopper, the long awaited return of ‘Ghost Dances’ and for those with long memories it did not disappoint.
The curtain rose with three skeleton ghosts wearing skull masks, standing tall and powerful, staring into the distance from the dimly lit set with a backdrop of the Andes mountains. There is a sense of impending doom as a band of peasants enter stage performing a balletic folk dance to the backdrop of panpipes and a latin beat. The figures of death retreat to the shadows only to reappear amongst them. The fate of the innocents is determined.
The monochromatic skeletal figures' movements are powerful and pointed and contrast against the bright colours and happy flowing movement in the dances of the people. There are some joyful duets before death strikes. Despite their courage and determination to continue on with their lives though dance, music and song the peasants are inevitably touched by death and fall one by one.
For a new generation to Rambert it will not seem dated. Sadly it is so easy to transpose the atrocities of Pinochet to any number of regimes today and it is as powerful a piece of work now as it was when first performed in 1981. Compelling.
By Rick Matthews (@devarick)
Theatre Clwyd until Sat 11th March