Exceptional evening of dance

RAMBERT DANCE COMPANY - Eternal Light Tour 2009, Snape Maltings, Friday February 27

Rambert Dance Company - Eternal Light Tour 2009, Snape Maltings, Friday February 27

THIS was an exceptional evening of contemporary dance from a company in fine form. A varied bill showcased Rambert's marvellous dancers in three contrasting pieces, although for me the undoubted highlight was the opening piece - a specially commissioned work for dancers and singers with music by Howard Goodall, choreography by Mark Baldwin and designs by Michael Howard.

Eternal Light is a beautiful piece - elegiac, lyrical and uplifting. Though based on the Requiem Mass, Goodall has adopted a broader, humanist approach, contrasting settings of the traditional religious texts with modern poems about death, including Ann Thorp's moving I have to believe that you still exist and a haunting version of the hymn Lead Kindly Light. It is lovely music, wonderfully danced and sung (by soprano and tenor soloists Martene Grimson and Daniel Broad with the Britten-Pears Chamber Choir).

Goodall shifts the focus from religious observance to the offering of solace to the living, and Baldwin has responded by creating a series of human, heart-felt solos, duets and ensemble pieces.

It is all beautifully crafted, but especially effective are the powerful opening solo, a dance for two grieving women in flowing dresses and a touching duet for a boy and girl - a lost love celebrated, perhaps. Most striking is the appearance, towards the end, of a dancer clad as large bird. Her mask is that of a toucan, a symbol of an endangered nature, but when she spreads her wings aloft the image is more of a phoenix reborn from its own funeral pyre. The bird seems, at the same time, to represent the fragility of a life under threat and the strength of a life re-born. It points to our own doubt and confusion over death. Is it an ending or a beginning?

Siobhan Davies' Carnival of the Animals could not have provided a greater contrast. Saint- Sa�ns' famous score is full of musical jokes, and Davies responds by filling the stage with choreographed silliness. Directed by a gleeful mistress of ceremonies in white tie and tails, we are taken through the whole bizarre menagerie including swirling swimmers in the Aquarium, and two girls doing amusing things with large ostrich plumed fans. The Swan is a male shape-shifter - sometimes the swan itself other times the cello that plays its theme - the dancer (Alexander Whitley) thankfully banishes the clich�d image so long associated with this music: a be-feathered prima ballerina desperately flapping her arms in her balletic death-throes.

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Scribblings, choreographed by Doug Varone to John Adams' Chamber Symphony, brought the evening to an end with a Technicolor blast of high octane dance reminiscent, musically and visually, of the gym dances from Bernstein's West Side Story, and featured an ingenious central duet by the excellent Malgorzata Dzieron and Thomasin G�lge�.

James Hayward