Ballet Rambert review: ‘Life is a Dream’ is a performance for seasoned dance lovers

Rambert's latest show 'Life is a Dream'. Photo: Johan Persson

Rambert's latest show 'Life is a Dream'. Photo: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

Review of 'Life is a Dream', the latest show by leading British dance company Rambert, at Norwich Theatre Royal.

The term 'contemporary ballet' is being banded around in the dance world so freely these days that I'm becoming increasingly suspicious of the phrase.

The genre is being used to cover a multitude of sins, some of which shouldn't have made it to stage, let alone claim to be balletic.

And for Rambert, the leading company in the contemporary dance world, there's an increasing pressure to do something different and move the industry on.

With their latest show 'Life is a Dream', Rambert have delivered on that request.

As you may have guessed, the show is an adaptation of Pedro Calderon de la Barca's 17th century play.

I would say if you're thinking about attending this show on the merit of the Barca's plot alone, you'll be disappointed- the ballet reflects the play largely in the themes as opposed to the narrative.

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I was warned ahead of the show that it may make me feel a little 'sleepy'.

That's not to say it was boring, quite the opposite, but everything from the choreography to the score (played live, a bonus) had a whimsical and ethereal feeling.

What Brandstrup's choreography has translated well from the play is the shifting of power between characters - be that from between the male to female roles, or the dynamic between father and son.

The show, just over an hour long, features three leads (two male and one female) dancing their way through a series of partners, with the balance of power shifting between the genders as the show went on.

I was pleased to see at the outset of the show the traditional pas de deux roles were reversed, with ballerinas barely scraping five foot physically supporting the towering male dancers in their carefully cultivated show of vulnerability.

As the acts rumbled on, these moved back to more traditional lifts, though all of them had an inflection or port de bras (the movement of the arms) which continued to give the show an edge.

In the final minutes of the show we see the two male leads (presumed to be father and son) in a piece of mirrored choreography - with the son walking away from the encounter cautious but triumphant.

You could tell this was a fairly new show.

The dancers didn't have the synergy we have come to expect from Rambert, a reputation earned by the likes of Ghost Dances.

Whether it was an elbow slightly too jarring in a sea of limbs which were perfectly fluid, or a plie which was slightly too low for the other carefully held poses- it wasn't quite perfect.

On average there were ten or so bodies on stage, and slips in style are highlighted all the more when everyone else is doing their job.

Comparatively to the likes of Acosta Danza, who also visited Norwich recently, there wasn't a moment in Life is a Dream which made me say 'Wow', it was more subtle than that.

Because of this, I'd say this is a performance for seasoned dance lovers looking to see where contemporary ballet will go next.

I would recommend the better known Rambert shows if you're looking for an initial introduction into what the company does best.