BWW Review: RAMBERT'S LIFE IS A DREAM, Sadler's Wells
Life is a Dream is Rambert's first full-length work is over 40 years. It's perhaps best left to seasoned dance-lovers and those who like a challenge, because choreographer Kim Brandstrup certainly doesn't make it an easy task for his audience.
Fortunately, the quality of the Rambert company stills shines through in this multi-faceted story, especially in the more dynamic second act.
There's a lack of accessibility compared to typical Rambert fare; after all, this is the same company who gave us Ghost Dances and Rooster - easy to follow and visually engaging works that translate to all audiences - but this is quite the gear change.
Kim Brandstrup's Life is a Dream is based on the 17th-century Spanish baroque play of the same name and explores the merging of reality and illusion. The original tale follows a prince who is incarcerated from birth, and upon release goes on a mad rampage causing disharmony. He is seized, put to sleep and returned to prison; upon release for a second time, he is more cautious.
The action is set in a claustrophobic, run-down rehearsal room, where a director is drifting to sleep. As he replays the day's rehearsals in his mind, a selection of images from the fictitious world reappear and are replayed by various casts.
Brandstrup is known for his cinematic background and that is evident throughout, most notably in the first act that has a distinctly noir feel, with imposing barred windows suggesting a world outside the rehearsal rooms.
Black and white projections occasionally depict wide-open landscapes, such as forests and seascapes before dissolving away again. Don't forget that eerie wooden mannequin either, which, when in silhouette, looks horrifically real as it trundles about the stage.
Snapshots of the plot are played out through slow and surreal movements. Three protagonists emerge: two Princes (indicated by Holly Waddingham's regal yet distressed costumes), and one woman, but their identities are never solidified.
Act II is more theatrical. The confined rehearsal space is done away with, while the Director (split between Liam Francis and Miguel Altunaga) takes the central role. There's an excitingly choreographed section where their two embodiments collide in a series of captivating physical jumps, twists and turns. They stop, breathing heavily, eyeballing each other before dispersing again.
The moments of tension are broken by the cast of earlier racing in and out of the picture in a series of disjointed duets and solos to Lutoslawski's uneasy score.
Brandstrup's work feels very academic for a dance piece, and would no doubt improve on repeated viewings, but for now it remains challenging and a little too ambiguous to be enjoyable.
He strings together some beautifully constructed moments of theatre, together with the striking designs of the Quay Brothers, but it's still worth more than a cursory glance of the programme notes to fully (or even partly) absorb its drama.
Image Credit: Johan Persson