I love dance and find something to enjoy in most shows but I have rarely had such a good time as I had at The Lowry last night. Rambert delivered a scintillating programme of work by Mark Baldwin, Richard Alston, Merce Cunningham and Christopher Bruce. Each of those works is a choreographic masterpiece bur the show was called "Rooster" not "Mixed Bill" and it was that classic that I and most of the rest of the crowd had come to see.
I am just over three years younger than Bruce and grew up with the Rolling Stones. I did not actually buy their records or indeed any pop music because I did not have a record player until my 21st birthday but then I did not need to because their music was everywhere at friends' parties and on the radio particularly programmes broadcast from ships moored in the Thames estuary.
The late 1960s was not a bad time to be young. Conscription had ended in 1963. There was full employment with relatively well paid work for young women. Those of us who were lucky enough to get into one of the handful of universities that existed at that time had full maintenance grants. The oral contraceptive pill had broken the link between intercourse and child birth liberating both sexes. The threat of nuclear annihilation was receding with the first test ban treaties and for a time the cold war seemed to be thawing. There were the first stirrings of movements for racial and gender equality.
There were still menaces, of course: the war in Vietnam, Apartheid, Rhodesia, the brutal crushing of the Prague Spring and Ulster. Life wasn't rosy everyone - not even in suburban Surrey where I grew up or St Andrews where I went to university - especially if you were poor, black or female - but it was a damn sight better than it had been in the forties, fifties and early sixties and the music and the fashions of the day reflected a time of optimism, growing freedom and relative prosperity.
Bruce's Rooster reflected that time uncannily. It is eight movements set to eight Stones' songs:
- Little Red Rooster
- Lady Jane
- Not Fade Away
- As Tears Go By
- Paint it Black
- Ruby Tuesday
- Play with Fire
- Sympathy with the Devil.
Not all those tunes are happy but then we weren't always happy all of the time. That's when we listened to tracks like Ruby Tuesday. Bruce has captured the moods and emotions in each of those songs uncannily with some breathtaking choreography an example of which you can see in this clip.
The piece would have been nothing without Marian Bruce's designs. The dancers' hair, those gorgeous black and red dresses, the boys' jackets and ties - authentic but not in the least dated - clothes especially Ruby's dress that every woman in the audience must have longed to wear. I remembered what we wore to parties during my schooldays at Belsize Park and Richmond or during my students days at Elie or on the North Haugh.
Now, as you can see, I am far too emotional to give this performance any proper critical analysis. If you want to learn more watch Bruce's commentary on the Unmasked page of Rambert's website, read these student notes from an Australian university, read a review or, better still, see the show for yourself as it tours the country.
Justice requires a few words about the other pieces. The show opened with The Strange Charm of Mother Nature by the company's artistic director Mark Baldwin. For some reason or other I had expected it to be about animals or plants but it is actually about sub-atomic particles and was inspired by a visit to CERN. The music was provided by a live orchestra which reminds us of Rambert's classical roots and the fact that it was our first ballet company (see "Rambert at the Lowry - 9 Oct 2013" 11 Oct 2013). The music was eclectic - Bach, Stravinsky and Cheryl Frances-Head - and the designs by Katie Paterson stunning. Along the backdrop ran a beam of light at different heights and in different colours changing with the costumes of the dancers. A plasma stream perhaps? If so, it was effective.
The other treats of the evening were Richard Alston's Dutiful Ducks to Charles Amirkhanian's poem danced by Adam Blyde and my personal favourite. Merce Cunningham's Sounddance. I have to confess to being a Dane Hurst fan ever since I saw him dance Inala to Ladysmith Black Mazambo at the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School Gala at the Wells last year. He was the first on stage and the last to leave conjuring his colleagues to do magnificent things in between. Don't get me started about Dane Hurst because it would not be fair to the other dancers who were brilliant too.
While watching Rooster a thought occurred to me. Rooster was created in 1991 which was well outside the period but there was at least one rock ballet in the 1960s, namely Peter Darrell's Mods and Rockers for Western Theatre Ballet. Critics were a bit sniffy - see The Spectator of the 27 Nov 1963 - but crowds loved it and so, I think did the dancers. Western Theatre Ballet is now, of course. Scottish Ballet which is reviving Darrell's Nutcracker. Wouldn't it be lovely to see another Darrell classic again. Sarasota Ballet danced it in 1996 so it must be a lot easier to reconstruct than say Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals. So what about it, Mr. Hampson? Please. Pretty please.