In its current programme, Rambert Dance Company lives up to its reputation for fielding fabulous dancers in wildly variable repertory. They certainly excel in Merce Cunningham’s classic RainForest, from 1968, a cool but fascinating work in which the stage becomes a window on to a space-age habitat (Andy Warhol’s floating set of silver helium-filled pillows) populated by primeval life forms.
In a series of overlapping scenes, six dancers appear and leave, each one a different creature: one strides long and low as if marking territory, another hovers and darts like a dragonfly, others signal and posture with unfathomable intent or enact mysterious rituals. David Tudor’s score of manipulated bleeps, rattles and chirrups completes the sense of watching some weird but rather wonderful documentary of unnatural history.
If RainForest transports you to another realm, Mark Baldwin’s Seven for a Secret, Never to Be Told ought to, but doesn’t. His destination is the world of childhood. The stage, hung with fronds like a clearing in a forest, becomes a kind of 50s Neverland for assorted characters in Famous Five smocks and Just William shorts whose awfully big adventures amount to good-natured pillow fights and picnics with teddy, their playtime frolics lightly peppered with gender-appropriate flouncing or joshing. You certainly sense the innocent pleasure in their helicopter spins and larky leaps, but the Janet-and-John mentality dampens the sparkiest dancing.
Fundamentally, the idea of a child’s imagination doesn’t appear to have caught Baldwin’s: his props (dolls, a toy chest on wheels, buckets) remain lifeless objects, and the choreography is all texture and no depth. The score is based on Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges, a work of piercing beauty with a childlike heart, but Stephen McNeff’s adaptation – a clever, chop-and-change arrangement, with added sprinkles – is all texture, too.
Javier de Frutos’s Elysian Fields is about adults. His point of departure, to which he keeps returning, is a speech from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire in which Blanche DuBois recalls her discovery of her husband’s homosexuality, and his subsequent suicide. Around this primal scene de Frutos spins a web of violence, rivalry and lust, turning the stage into a sexualised bullring of thrown punches and forced kisses.
It may look ragged but the choreography is tautly controlled, recycling key gestures – an accusing finger, a lunge, a faint, a flinch – like thoughts that won’t go away. The details of these scenarios – who does what, and why – are pretty blurry, but de Frutos certainly cooks up a hothouse atmosphere, for which Christopher Austin’s reworking of the original film score is a suitably torrid accompaniment.