Ballet Rambert Life is a Dream
**** (4 stars)
There were castors. A bed on castors. A bald female dummy on a tall wooden framework with castors. A small table with a desk lamp, on castors. A huge spotlight with wings, on castors. Sometimes these were moved around, possibly significantly.
A man slept at the small table. Various people slept on the bed, lay on the bed, jumped on the bed, danced on the bed. Sometimes there were many people on stage, sometimes just one or two.
In act one there were windows onto which a variety of black and white grainy patterns and various monochrome scenes of ‘outside’ were projected: in act two, stark white light and black shadows. There were dancers in shades of black, white and grey, whom it was hard to see among the first act’s grainy textures of costume and projection. There were straitjackets.
There was a lot of excellent dancing – all barefoot – with some of the dancers swapping traditional ballet roles, so that women lifted men into leaps and poses and men danced with men. There was a superb bit of mirroring when two nearly-identical men copied each other’s moves so exactly you might have thought there was but one man and a mirror. There was music, much of it of the ‘tinkle tinkle plonk’ type, with occasional lyrical swoopings, and at one stage a cabaret-style song in what I took to be Polish.
The Financial Times called it “a cinematic masterpiece”, and the creative team included Olivier Award-nominated choreographer Kim Brandstrup, ‘legendary filmmakers’ the Quay Brothers. The music was by Witold Lutoslawski.
Apparently this was ‘a contemporary re-imagining of Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s classic play, Life is a Dream’. In the play, a prince has been incarcerated since childhood and is freed for a day. He goes on a violent rampage and is seized, put to sleep, and imprisoned again. When he wakes, he thinks it was all a dream – when he is released for a second time he approaches everything more cautiously.
It would seem that the first act was meant to represent the dreamlike imaginings of a theatre producer, while the second act showed him the stark light of reality from which he ultimately chose to retreat. I can’t say that I was aware of any clear sense of narrative – maybe there was but I simply couldn’t grasp it? Reading the programme today, things have become a little clearer: but last night I simply marvelled at the dancing and wished that it hadn’t been lost in the monochrome mist.
Rambert: Life is a Dream, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Runs until Saturday 24th November for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/rambert
Review by Mary Woodward.