It is Javier De Frutos’s willingness to take risks that makes him one of the more likable of today’s contemporary choreographers. He is by no means the best, but, as last March’s flawed but immensely enjoyable collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys testified, he is willing to stick his neck out, and seldom dull.
His Elysian Fields, which Rambert Dance Company gave its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells on Tuesday, is a case in point. Taking its title from the New Orleans avenue at the heart of A Streetcar Named Desire, it is a slightly bonkers fantasy on a theme of Tennesse Williams – especially that 1947 drama – that willfully fractures Streetcar’s narrative into splinters. The set consists largely of huge, infantalising chairs, characters’ identities apparently chop and change throughout, and increasingly breathless dancers gasp looped passages from Streetcar in between far more advisable duties (ie dancing).
Its chief aim, though, is to distill the play’s headiness, and here it succeeds. There is a suitably brutish energy to the choreographic interplay between Jonathan Goddard’s snake-hipped Stanley and the various other characters vying for his feral affection, which he especially (though by no means uniquely) embraces with a scary ferocity. Yes, you get the general idea some way before the close, but the piece reeks of steamy sexual abandon and despair and has a genuine edge to it.
At the opposite end of the nastiness scale is the other novelty on the bill, Mark Baldwin’s tribute to childhood, Seven for a secret, never to be told. Given the conspiratorial title, I had half-hoped that Rambert’s director might dare at least hint at the darker instincts of the young, but no such luck. Set under a huge weeping willow, this is a remorselessly rose-tinted world of skipping and jumping, pillow-fights and doll’s picnics, that had me rather cringeing for the 10 fabulous, grown-up dancers ill-advisably obliged to act like six-year-olds.
Admittedly, Antonette Dayrit is a lighter-than-air marvel as the lead girl, and, in his fearless, expansive jumps Mbulelo Ndabeni also charmingly conveys the boundless energy of youth, that sense of its being easier to run than to walk. Overall though, the work’s saccharine cutesiness is overpowering, like being force-fed Fun Size Mars Bars drenched in golden syrup, and the audience’s reluctance to applaud until the end suggested that I was not the only one craving something tarter. No pocket-money for Baldwin this week.
The evening opens with a Rambert staple, Merce Cunningham’s evergreen, Warhol-designed RainForest. As ever in their hands, this 1968 piece is richly enjoyable, even if their rendering also makes you miss the otherworldly, serenely purposeful, half-man-half-beast quality that Cunningham’s own (soon-to-be-disbanded) company bring to it. Rambert are made of more muscularly human stuff, and their earthy attack is terrific to watch and yet seldom lets you fantasise about what sort of life-forms you are actually witnessing.