Ghost Dances and Other Works Review: the Classic and the Innovative Collide

Rambert Dance Company’s latest performance at the Theatre Royal Newcastle combined a revival of the 1981 masterpiece Ghost Dances from internationally acclaimed choreographer Christopher Bruce with new pieces by up-and-coming choreographers. Bruce originally envisioned his work as a tribute to victims of the political violence and oppression in Chile following General Augusto Pinochet’s bloody coup in 1973. Yet despite being rooted in a particular historical moment, its poignant portrayal of death in the midst of life has a universal relevance. In an 1988 interview, Bruce remarked that ‘it’s indirectly political, but it’s very much about humanity and just about how people get caught up, suffer and die.’ His work therefore focuses more on the personal suffering of individuals, rather than the political agitation of the period.

Ghost Dances | © Jane Hobson
Ghost Dances | © Jane Hobson

In the opening section, the male dancers were introduced with predatory and reptilian movements performed with grace and eeriness. They displayed extraordinary skill in uniting immaculately timed canons to only the sound of wind. The signature move of the ‘Mis Llamitas’ section – a llama-like walk performed by the male dancer as the female dancer pulls him along by his tie – received considerable giggles from the audience, making the woman’s sudden death all the more poignant.

Ghost Dances | © Jane Hobson
Ghost Dances | © Jane Hobson

Coming before Ghost Dances, Andonis Foniadakis’s debut collaboration with Rambert, Symbiosis, was an interesting choice for the opening number. Although its lack of a linear narrative could make it difficult to follow, it allowed the viewer to form their own opinion of its meaning. The work’s inspiration came from the dynamic patterns of human behaviour in cities. The piece was fascinating for its formal composition alone, with the movements of the dancers in and out of complex formations and synchronisations echoing the fast-paced and chaotic nature of modern life.

Ghost Dances | © Jane Hobson
Ghost Dances | © Jane Hobson

Ben Duke’s Goat came last in the show and might be described as a work of dance-theatre due to its incorporation of dialogue, vocals and multimedia. The piece is named after a New Year’s Eve tradition in his hometown in which people write things they want to get rid of on paper and tie it to a goat that is let loose. Nina Simone was also an inspiration, whose songs Duke used as a springboard for exploring the pain and pleasure of performing. In Goat, Duke uses live on-stage musical accompaniment, acting and a cameraman filming the dancers with a live-feed to an on-stage screen. The performance had a meta-awareness of itself: while the dancers were improvising, the compare (the audience’s point-of-relation in the piece, played by principle dancer Miguel Altunaga) interviewed them, with cameraman in tow, asking what their dance ‘was about’, leading to comical reactions. The added elements of acting and singing proved a challenge for the dancers, but this was only occasionally problematic. Altunaga handled his unusual compare part with surprisingly good comic-timing. More than once the black humour in this performance had the audience roaring with laughter.

Rambert: Ghost Dances and Other Works was on at the Theatre Royal Newcastle on 6­­­–8 February 2018