Choreographers: Imre van Opstal, Marne van Opstal, Ben Duke and Alonzo King
Rambert’s trilogy of new dances starts so spectacularly that the audience leans forward to check that no stage trickery is making two dancers twitch like defective automatons. It’s an electric beginning but Rambert’s second piece, Cerberus, is the most exciting new dance to appear for years.
But back to the first dance. Imre van Opstal and Marne van Opstal’s Eye Candy is a wry look at the desire to have the perfect body. It begins with seemingly naked bodies, but as the lights brighten and after the two dancers have finished their disturbing but compelling pulsing, it becomes clear that the performers aren’t topless after all. Instead the male dancers Grecian’ six-packs and the female dancers’ pneumatic breasts are part of their costumes designed by the van Opstals. With a mix of contemporary and ballet steps, Eye Candy, as the title suggests, looks beautiful – even sculptural – under Fabiana Piccioli’s lights. Before the dancers pose and preen they are prodded and poked as if they are patients waiting for cosmetic surgery or as if they are Pygmalions venturing forth from blocks of marble. Sometimes they are intensely serious while at other times they move with mock horror drawn into their faces like the instant when two male dancers appear to discover their bodies for the first time. The final tableau is a bittersweet victory for the body.
After such elegance, the early comedy in Ben Duke’s Cerberus comes as a surprise. In a rewriting of the Eurydice myth a dancer Aishwarya Raut has passed into the underworld and her friend Antonello Sangiradi finds himself giving her eulogy to a congregation gathered on the Sadler’s Wells stage. He wants, like Orpheus, to go and find her and bring her back to the living, but first he and his pal Alex Soulliere must stop the other mourners following in Aishwarya’s footsteps. This march to the underworld is thrilling and moving as a cast of around 15 dancers surrender to the allure of the other side. Some glide in while others break off to give little hip-hop routines – one by a young man whose walking sticks flash in the air like black lightning – before they pass through the folds of the curtains. Only later do they realise their mistake and run the other way. Meanwhile Antonello ties a rope around his waist in preparation for his descent. As Rebecca Leggett sings songs by Monteverdi, tragedy has rarely looked so enticing.
With so much excitement, it’s only to be expected that the last piece, Following The Subtle Current Upstream, has too much to live up to. It’s well-danced, and Robert Rosenwasser’s green and yellow costumes flow well with the music but overall Alonzo King’s choreography seems too technical and the dancers too careful to wholly represent the return to joy that the notes in the programme promise. Here the focus is on individual dancers rather than a communal joy. Here, joy is always just out of sight. Perhaps if Rambert were to change the running order of these pieces and begin with this one instead, it would have a greater impact.
Cerberus is so devastatingly good that it should be the final show; the smack of Antonello’s rope dropping on the floor is a sound that will haunt you for days.
Runs until 21 May 2022