DanceNorth WestReview

Death Trap – The Lowry, Salford

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

Director: Ben Duke

Described as ‘a meta dance comedy’ Rambert’s Death Trap tries – and fails – to splice together two pieces – Cerberus from 2022 and Goat from 2017. It’s hard to understand why Director Ben Duke made the decision to bring together two wholly different pieces in this way, not least because neither comes anywhere close to effectively showcasing the company’s strengths. There’s talking – way too much of it, live music, and very stilted comedy. There’s barely any dance.

Cerberus tells a convoluted story about stage left being a portal to the underworld. Dancers are pulled towards it, sometimes with resignation, sometimes fighting all the way. There’s maybe ten minutes of beautifully choreographed dance, the highlight of which is when the limp body of a male dancer is lifted and spun across the stage by others. The rest of the piece is taken up with poorly delivered and pointless script – a half explanation of what’s going on. It’s neither poetic nor comedic and adds nothing to the performance.

Not only does this continue in Goat, it takes up almost all of the fifty minutes of the piece. Set in what looks like a school hall (a rather bland design by Tom Rogers), a group of people gather for a ceremonial sacrifice. The traditional goat has been replaced by a human who is condemned to dance himself to death. While this promises some actual dance, the company mostly just sit or stand around while a ‘TV reporter’ and her camera operator butt in, trying to interview reluctant celebrants and making a total nuisance of herself. It’s supposed to be funny, but the character is just downright annoying and the performance is poor. The ‘TV’ camera has a live feed to a large screen at the side of the stage which is both distracting and ugly. The same male dancer whose performance was the highlight of the first half is the unfortunate sacrifice and his ‘death dance’ and subsequent duet are again what stand out here, but it’s all frustratingly brief. The company cast list doesn’t specifically credit the soloists so it’s impossible to name check the dancer who creates these memorable moments.

It’s good to have live music on stage – drums, guitar, piano, bass and some lovely vocals. Romama Campbell provide a great solo drum soundtrack and Caroline Jaya-Ratnam’s song in Cerberus is hauntingly beautiful. In Goat, the Nina Simone songs – sung by Sheree DuBois’s – would work fine as a backdrop, but given so little else is going they end up being forefront – and DuBois’s rather lacklustre delivery just isn’t enough for that.

Cerberus has some rather beautiful moments when the performance, costume design (Eleanor Bull) and lighting (Jackie Shemesh) create perfect, if fleeting, visual moments – the long black and grey skirt that fans out, the white of the rope that drags the dancers across the stage, bright against the funereal costumes.

Rambert have created some astonishingly and memorable things over a great many years. Death Trap seems to be trying to do something that the company is just not built for. It’s a strange and frustrating mix of too many things, amounting to not very much.

Runs until 20 April 2024

lacklustre, dull, stilted

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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