Rambert’s GHOST DANCES at Bath Theatre Royal

Ever innovative, Rambert bring us a programme of three pieces with healthily varied subjects. Having rummaged around in the box marked ‘interesting things’ the three choreographers have produced a clutch of dances linked merely by their breathtaking audacity.

The first offering, by Aletta Collins, “The days Run away like wild horses’, was seminally influenced by an Oscar winning animation, Tango, and is set to three Danzons by Arturo Márquez. The first section could be described as ‘performance art’ consisting of repeated actions by apparently unrelated performers seemingly caught in a never ending loop. A man throws a ball through a window, climbs in to retrieve it, goes out and repeats. A woman comes in with a baby, goes out, comes in and so on. A jogger runs on missing everyone, including the schoolgirl who repeatedly sits to read. Lovers kiss against the wall, the girls bangs her head again and again, then everything stops whilst they have sex. Everyone copies their copulating rhythms. Yes, it’s a laugh. The walls then move away to create a wider space and the ordinary becomes wonderful. Changing then into deep red costumes, suits and flowing dresses (with cross dressing) we find an expansion into swirling, loosely articulated movement to the South American rhythms. Then emerges a pas de deux of complex counterbalancing, with the couple moving into and out of harmony with each other.

The second, title piece, Ghost Dances, is a revival of a work by Christopher Bruce, which although set in South America with folk tunes arranged by Nicholas Mojsiejenko, in its lament for the oppressed under Pinochet, stands as universal witness to the powerless and neglected.  The scene is one of moonlit, mephitic gloom out of which emerge zombie-like creatures, masked as if in a voodoo ceremony with deathly, skeletal makeup.  Peasants engage in folk dance, and young lovers find hope in each other, but all find that death is at hand to crush the spirit. Let joy be confined, for something nasty awaits and the dead return to remind us.

The final piece, Goat, choreographer Ben Duke tells us, has a double genesis; a local folk tradition of sending paper tokens of bad things out of the village on a goat and then the music and life of Nina Simone.  The piece holds hands with cabaret – complete with Miguel Altunaga having some fun with the audience as a novice compère/narrator, summing up at one point with, ’I don’t know what’s going on, I’m confused’. An on stage – on stage singer, Nia Lynn with a jazz trio go through the numbers whilst the dancers cavort, at times like a 60’s rave with a, paradoxical, controlled abandon. Liam Francis is offered as some kind of sacrifice requiring him to dance himself to death during something akin to a frenzied rite of spring and Vanessa Kang does something that could be likened to a drunken karaoke.

All in all it is an evening of wit, depth and dazzling technique, which always challenges our expectations, continually pushing at the boundaries of dance and the surrounding arts.   ★★★★☆    Graham Wyles   3rd November 2017