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The Comedy of Errors

Theatre Review: Rambert - Ghost Dances

29 March 17 words: Alison Kirkman

A tribute to the political oppression faced by the people of South America under Pinochet’s regime

Rambert Ghost Dances - photo by Jane Hobson

Ghost Dances (Daniel Davidson Liam Francis Juan Gil) - photo by Jane Hobson

Hands up who thought The Royal Ballet was Britain’s oldest dance company? Not so! Rambert holds that title. Its founder Marie Rambert fled her native Poland during the First World War, supporting herself when she first arrived in England by teaching dance and performing as a soloist. She established the company in 1926, five years before The Royal came to be.

Rambert’s first performance at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith that same year is said to mark the birth of British ballet. Frederick Ashton choreographed that first piece, A Tragedy of Fashion. Then Marie’s student, Ashton went on to make some of ballet’s best-known works, including Ondine and La fille mal gardée, later becoming director of The Royal Ballet.

Since then, choreographers contributing to Rambert’s repertoire have included Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharpe and Wayne MacGregor. It counts Richard Alston, Christopher Bruce and Robert North among its directors, all of whom have created a significant number of works for the company.

Rambert Ghost Dances - photo by Jane Hobson

Ghost Dances (Miguel Altunaga Carolyn Bolton Juan Gil) - photo by Jane Hobson

Tonight was all about Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances – made in 1981 and, according to the programme, still one of the most requested works by audiences around the world.

It was created by Bruce as a tribute to the political oppression faced by the people of South America under Pinochet’s regime. It features three ‘ghost dancers’, elaborately made up with white and black skeletal markings across their mostly naked bodies. Masks that evoke the Day of the Dead cover their faces. At first alone, they are soon joined by a local community whose traditional dress of primary colours is in sharp contrast. Gradually, the ghost dancers begin to interrupt the lives of the locals, leaving them downtrodden and confused.

It’s a captivating work, made all the more absorbing by the live South American folk music performed by Rambert’s excellent orchestra. It feels like a piece I could watch over and over and find something new every time.

You have to feel for the choreographers whose work was on the same bill – surely few could compete with this true classic. So, I’m choosing not to mention them here. What would be the point? Ghost Dances is what the audience came to see, and their standing ovation said it all. No matter what else is on the bill, I’ve no doubt this piece, performed brilliantly by Rambert’s skilful and athletic dancers, will continue to draw the crowds every time.

Rambert performed at Theatre Royal, Nottingham on Tuesday 28 March 2017.

www.rambert.org.uk

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