Dance: Rambert Triple Bill, Sadler’s Wells, 25 May

Let’s get the obvious point out of the way first: when you go to see a performance by Rambert, you expect to see good dancing. The company has few competitors when it comes to the technical excellence of its dancers, which serves to throw the quality of the choreographic material itself into relief: if the virtuosity of the dancing is a given, then the success or otherwise of a Rambert performance hangs almost entirely on the choice of works performed. Fortunately, the company is also blessed with gifted collaborators, a savvy programming team, and a repertory archive others would die for.

The London triple bill opened on Tuesday with Siobhan Davies’s The Art of Touch, an investigation into the different ways in which dancers touch – the floor with their feet, each other with their limbs, the space with their bodies and the music with their movements.The piece is set to a series of uptempo baroque sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti interspersed with Matteo Fargion’s gentler, more contemplative modern compositions, all played live on harpsichord by Carole Cerasi.

At times, the dancers seem to literally pluck the music from the air, reaching delicately toward the wings to summon a chord from the instrument. The fast, intricate movement phrases, flawlessly matching the breakneck cadences of Scarlatti’s music, recall the work of Richard Alston far more than they do the choreographer of Birdsong or Two Quartets. It’s a dazzling work of bravura, and all seven dancers shine in the various solos, duets and ensemble sections that make up the work; Pieter Symonds particularly thrilled the audience at Sadler’s Wells with her strong, expressive central solo.

Rambert continues its long held connection with the work of Merce Cunningham with a revival of RainForest, premiered at Sadler’s last night in tribute to the choreographer who died last year. Cunningham is something of a Marmite choreographer, and RainForest the type of work that confirms existing prejudice – audiences tend to find the six dancers’ slow, sustained adages and dainty triplets either brilliant or totally baffling.

The 1968 work, premiered at the rather splendidly named Second Buffalo Festival of the Arts Today, features a striking set by Andy Warhol based on his earlier installation Silver Clouds. The pillow-shaped, silver helium balloons bob and float at different heights around and on the stage, and reinforce Cunningham’s choreographic chance procedures in two ways: the balloons themselves are chaotic, and frequently share space with the dancers in unexpected ways. Sometimes, a performer will kick a balloon out of the way as they extend a leg into arabesque; sometimes a silver pillow on the forestage will obscure part of the action from view.

The floating set also contributes to the chance nature of the audience’s gaze – I found myself watching the ballet of the balloons behind the dancers almost as often as the performers themselves. Together with David Tudor’s undulating soundscore, played live by John Bowers and Robert Millet on what looked like the contents of somebody’s kitchen cupboard suspended from a frame in the pit, the drifting balloons created a dreamy, psychedelic setting for a work that can only be described as pure Cunningham.

A Linha Curva brought with it a complete change of pace, the 28 performers of the full company arriving onstage in tiny lycra hotpants to shake, ripple and shimmy their way through Itzik Galili’s tub-thumping finale. Taking its cues from a distinctly street-party version of Latin American dance, and set to a fiery samba-drum score performed by percussion troupe Percossa, A Linha Curva doesn’t let up in energy or buoyancy from its opening whoop to its closing stamp. I wanted to grab anyone who had thought that samba was something performed on Strictly Come Dancing by Christine Bleakly in a pink frock and thrust them in front of this piece until they understood differently.

With so much already happening on stage, the decision to create a parallel choreography for the lighting rig was ambitious and not always successful. Galili’s own lighting design has a flashing grid of coloured squares picking out groups of the dancers in sequence, but this rather distracts from the energy of the dance – the lighting state changes sometimes struggle to keep up with the frenetic pace of the movement, leaving the dancers occasionally unlit and the action momentarily invisible. Lighting quibbles aside, A Linha Curva brought the roof down with its infectious party mood on Tuesday.

Taken as a whole, the London triple bill demonstrated not only the well-attested physical virtuosity of the Rambert dancers but also their versatility, and with it the depth and range of the company’s repertoire. From Cunningham to carnival, it seems there’s nothing these superhuman performers can’t do, and I look forward to finding out how they’ll surprise us all next.

Originally published at

Neunundneunzig Luftballons (in meinem Weg)

When I was training, a group of fellow students and I made a dance which had dozens of helium balloons as a set. We went the whole hog and hired an industrial cylinder of helium with which to fill our coloured balloons. In addition, we purchased yards of ribbon and many pairs of white socks to tie them to, which kept the floating balloons loosely in place in the studio while allowing them to be knocked around by our dancing bodies.

For a student piece, it was a really rather beautiful set, the multicoloured balloons swaying and bobbing in the sunlight like some kind of mad lollipop-forest. And in the dress rehearsal the concept worked well – as we moved through the piece, our limbs and torsos swept some balloons aside, gathered others, and left visible traces in the mobile set like a trail through the balloon-forest. Everyone who saw the rehearsal agreed it looked “really cool”.

Unfortunately, when it came to the performance, we over-egged it with the balloons a bit and stuck them in just about every available inch of studio space. Now, instead of leaving a pretty trail through the balloons like the wake of a boat or vapour from an aeroplane, everybody just got tangled up in the ribbons. The wretched things didn’t sculpt the movement anymore, they just got in the way. A certain number of balloons, we learned, accentuates the movement profile with its gentle echo of what has travelled through; too many balloons just makes a damned mess of your choreography.

All of which preamble is by way of saying: when those large, silver, pillow-shaped balloons kept getting in the way of the Rambert dancers tonight, I probably sympathised more than most members of the audience.

Balloons and some slightly annoyed dancers, yesterday.

My excuse for the balloon error is, of course, that I was a student at the time. Merce’s excuse is, I suppose, that it was 1968 at the time. Either way, you never find out if something works unless you try.

But trust me on the balloons.

News: Elections 2010 – Lib Dem local councillor Ursula Woolley speaks to Highgate People

Polling day is drawer ever closer, and this weekend Cllr Ursula Woolley popped into Highgate People’s kitchen with a timely reminder about casting your vote in the local elections on May 6 as well as the general.


Cllr Urusla Wooley launching an emergency pothole fund this February

Woolley has lived in the area for ten years and been a councillor for the past four. “When I moved the the area Labour were still in control. The area had a really bad reputation, but everybody here seemed lovely – it seemed mad not to do something about it!”

Woolley represents Junction ward, the area of Islington borough surrounding Archway station. Working alongside colleague Cllr Stefan Kasprzyk, Woolley’s priorities for the ward include continuing to improve schools – “there’s been a lot of investment in school buildings, but now we want to continue to raise educational standards”; improving environmental sustainability; getting more local police on the beat, particularly after dark; and keeping council tax “on the low side” by delivering services efficiently.

The council is currently under no overall control. with 23 Lib Dem and 23 Labour councillors representing the interests of local residents, and both parties making no secret of the fact they would like to take full control of the council.

“It’s very close,” says Wolley. “In every ward there will be about 40 or 50 votes in it, so your vote really can make a difference.”

What are the local issues you would like to see prioritised by councillors? Let Ursula and the team know on, and let us know below!

Originally posted at