Hart of the matter

Matthew Hart, one of the stars of RAMBERT DANCE COMPANY, is as fluent with his words as he is on his feet.

Words: Donald Hutera

We tend to think of dancers only as bodies. They don’t really have minds and opinions, do they? It’s the choreographers who do the talking. Dancers are their mouthpieces. And then you meet Matthew Hart, dancer and choreographer. In the latter guise he’s already won a clutch of awards for works created for the Royal Ballet School and main company, Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Ballet, among others.

But it’s as a dancer that Hart is back, briefly, in Scotland. For the past three years he’s been one of the stand-outs of Rambert Dance Company. Britain’s foremost mainstream contemporary troupe returns to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre with a triple bill featuring former company member Jeremy James’s fashionable take on club-kid milieu, Gaps, Lapse and Relapse; artistic director Christopher Bruce’s dreamy study of childhood, Four Scenes; and American dance legend Twyla Tharp’s galvanising The Golden Section. On their heels comes the Scottish premiere of God’s Plenty, Bruce’s admirably ambitious, if problematic, rendering of The Canterbury Tales. Hart dances make that shines in all but one of these.

Here’s his insight on Four Scenes, with its Dave Heath score influenced by Scottish folk music and a big, evocative set from young, prize-winning designer Es Devlin: ‘It’s all about kids growing up. Sweet, and simple. There’s a lot of hopscotch, jumping around and playing. It’s rare that you have music this beautiful to dance to, full of lovely, lilting melody. It’s not extreme. It’s very clear what’s going on, and it’s always received very well.’

The most engaging element of God’s Plenty, at least on opening night in Manchester in mid- September, was the imaginative range of Devlin’s designs. ‘It’s not a rushed piece,’ Hart concurs. ‘We’ve all been working hard on it since the beginning of the year. Christopher was trying to make a theatrical piece, with mime, panto, singing . . . the kind of stuff we don’t usually get to do.’

This mammoth enterprise has a first act Prologue that attempts to put the selection of tales illustrated in

'You've just got to get out there and throw away all your inhibtions.’ Matthew Hart

Act Two into an impressionistic, socio-historical context. ‘There’s so much to take in, but each little part’s a wonderful idea: the Monty Python-esque knights, the Shaman figures [bestial yet godly creatures who introduce the Prologue]. When you finally get to the tales themselves, some of them are great.’

The apotheosis-like Golden Section is lifted from Tharp’s full-length, 1981 Broadway dance production The Catherine Wheel. The company first watched the official version on video. ‘We loved the music,’ recalls Hart of the early David Byrne score, ‘but as for the dance, we thought, this is terrible. Really hard and puffy, like an aerobics class. But you’ve just got to get out there and throw away all your inhibitions. Do it like you’re on a dance floor in a club and let it rip! We’re all in gold, with legwarmers. It’s Fame all over again.’

A testament to Hart’s ability is his recent Barclays Theatre Awards nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Dance (for the Tharp piece, and his interpretation of the Poet in Bruce and Lindsay Kemp’s landmark 1977 dance-theatre collaboration, Cruel Garden). He’s leaving Rambert in December, so it could be your last chance to see this engaging talent working with Britain’s foremost contemporary dance company.

Rambert Dance Company are at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre until Sat 23 Oct.

preview THEATRE

Stage whispers Re: treading the boards

PERTH THEATRE, WHICH celebrates its centenary this year, is in the process of major change. launching a new initiative intended to broaden its audience appeal and bring theatre back to the local community. The repertory company, which has produced high quality theatre since 1935, will shortly be announcing its new season, which, it is hinted, will contain some new work. There will also be a continuation of the policy of Director's previews and post-show discussions.

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR MICHAEL Winter also has ambitions in other directions. He has announced that the studio theatre will be brought into full use, targeting the community's young people as an audience and providing them with an alternative to pubbing and clubbing. New work will be regularly produced here, while there will also be scope for children's theatre. A new Education Policy will also target the young, with emphasis on workshopping with children and focus meetings with teachers.

PERTH THEATRE SUBSCRIBERS will be able to book for the Spring Season from Mon 25 Oct. Changes will be evident with new designs for programmes, and a new logo for the theatre. It looks an adventurous and outgoing policy. and one which might bring the 65-year-old repertory company to new prominence in the millennium.

NEW SAC FUNDING has been announced for a succession of theatre projects across the country. The biggest chunk of the Lottery Funding will go to the hard-hit North West Edinburgh region. Combining urban regeneration with Arts projects is not uncommon these days, but one must applaud the plan to build a new £1.75 million Community Arts Centre, which includes among its other functions a studio theatre, in the Muirhouse region of the capital. There’s already a creativity about this community, and the new building can only help to foster this, bringing theatre back to an audience too long deprived of it.

Perth Repertory's 1935 production of Charlie’s Aunt