At the ripe old age of 70, Rambert Dance Company is looking pretty peachy. Ellie Carr goes looking for the secrets of its eternal youth.
ance companies don’t usually make it to 70. And if they do they’re either Russian — and several centuries old — or ballet companies churning out classics from their heyday like elderly ladies stuck on the outﬁts they wore in. their prime. Rambert Dance Company is neither Russian nor stuck on the runaway ballet train. But the company has a history dating from tunic-clad class shots of yore to today’s Wonderbra-wearing publicity shots. At 70, Rambert is Britain’s oldest and easily one of its grooviest modern dance properties.
The path from days of deeply unfashionable dancewear to ﬁghting-ﬁt, world-class 90s dance ensemble has been far from smooth. From the pioneering early years of Marie Rambert (born Cyvia Rambam in Warsaw, 1888) to the current reign of artistic director Christopher Bruce, there have been more staff reshufﬂes than your
average MacDonalds and numerous miracle-
comebacks from the ﬁnancial brink. Throw that in with an overnight identity change from ballet to contemporary in the 605 and you have what’s known as a chequered history. . ’ Marie Rambert’s aim was to establish ,
the ﬁrst British ballet company. By 1926 she’d achieved this with nowt but nerves of steel, a sharp tongue and a messianic zeal for dance that drew talent her way like metal to a magnet. When the company had its ﬁrst big success at the Lyric, Hammersmith with
The path from days of deeply untashlonable dancewear to fighting-tit, world-class 90s dance ensemble has been tar from smooth.
Frederick Ashton’s debut ballet, word was that Rambert had discovered a star. Ashton went on to become one of Britain’s all-time ballet ‘greats’ and Rambert continued spotting talent.
Over the next few decades, the tiny, cash- strapped ballet company built its reputation on a touring programme of experimental new works and classics like Coppelia and Giselle. A deepening cash crisis in 1966 persuaded Man'e Rambert to cut costs by going modern.
With its brand new image - eighteen soloists and a ballet-modem fusion style modelled on Nederlands Dans Theater - Rambert entered a golden age. Director Norman Morrice showed he knew his modern dance onions by bringing in American choreographer Glen Tetley (1967-71) and other dance high-ﬂyers including Anna Sokolow and Lar Lubowitch.
The era’s true ﬁnd, however, came from within company ranks. Star dancer Christopher Bruce stunned all around with his ﬁrst creations and was appointed resident choreographer. His spectacular collaboration with bad boy performer and dancer Lindsay Kemp, Cruel
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Garden (1977), is seen as one of the great moments of UK dance history. By now British audiences for contemporary dance were well established. Rambert, along with its rival London Contemporary Dance Theatre. had been crucial to their development. During the 803, Rambert played to that new audience for all it was worth. The company’s Big Three choreographers at the time - Bruce, Richard Alston and Robert North — contributed major new works and trophy pieces from dance
megastars like Paul Taylor and Merce Cunningham, supplementing an increasingly bankable rep.
These years were intensely creative, but when Richard Alston took the directorship in 1986, events took an unexpected turn for the worse. Ditching the dramatic works of Bruce and North, Alston began to steer the company in his own coolly, neo-classical direction. He had his fans, but not enough to put bums on seats. Between 1980—91 audiences halved and by the
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l990—9l season performances had fallen to an all-time low of 57.
In 1991 Alston was ﬁnally shown the door by Ramben’s board. Christopher ,- Bruce — now freelancing his way round the ’ world — was headhunted for the director’s job. and after much deliberation, accepted. The condition was Rambert would wait two years while Bruce wound up other commitments. And
r waitthey did.
Rambert relaunched in 1994 in Edinburgh amid a press and PR ﬁreworks display. It was make-or-break time and Bruce had gone for make. There were 25 impeccably drilled super- dancers and two crowd-pleasing but skilfully chosen mixed bills. Audiences and critics were equally wowed.
Today, with the rival LCDT gone from the
scene, Rambert occupies pole position in British contemporary dance. Last year it played to 63,000 people, well in excess of its targets and beating top ﬁgures from its ‘golden years’. The shiny-new Rambert with its sexy rep has also become, dare we say it, trendy. Marie Rambert — legend has it — was still turning cartwheels on her 70th birthday. Looks like Rambert Dance Company will be doing the same. Rambert Dance Company is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Wednesday 26—Saturday 29 June. Rambert: A Celebration is published by Rambert Dance Company at £15 on Monday 1 July.
The List 14-27 Jun 199617