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Rambert Dance Company(Joyce Theater, New York, New York)

Modern dance is a point of view, John Martin famously said. Only if it has a marketing strategy, Rambert Dance Company's Christopher Bruce would undoubtedly reply. Under his artistic direction, the former Ballet Rambert is now selling modern dance to the biggest possible audience. Hence, the company's new profile: contemporary (meaning popular music), accessible (easy to understand), and populist. Even if the dancers sometimes work on pointe (as in Antony Tudor's Dark Elegies, not seen in New York City), RDC wants no part of the elitism associated with ballet.

The result is a company that seeks the middle ground with a vengeance. Bruce's works dominate the repertoire, and without exception they exemplify the artistic void at the heart of the company's new profile. The best of his New York offerings--in three programs over two weeks--were Swansong, which depicts an interrogation that ends in the death of a young prisoner, and Moonshine, where an Appalachian foursome daydreams to songs by Bob Dylan. There is much here that recalls Mark Morris--the music, the homespun dreams, the folk movements, which in Swansong no less than Moonshine include tap and step dancing. But where Morris, at his best, infuses these ingredients with mordant wit and pathos, Bruce uses them as a recipe for sentimental populism.

His other works proved just as upbeat as Moonshine. Rooster, in fact, is so cheery that its retro Carnaby Street teens are like the kids next door. The choreography is a predictable mix of disco aerobics (with hints of the twist and lindy) and ballet (for the romantic moments). Although the Rolling Stones songs that accompany all this explode with energy, the piece itself is merely slick.

Meeting Point is another glib--and derivative--work. With its twelve tuxedoed diplomats, the first scene recalls the opening of Kurt Jooss's The Green Table. The freeze-frame ending brings Morris's Going Away Party to mind while the chummy athleticism and ballroom dancing recall Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp. The structure that distinguishes these masters is totally absent. And, like most of Bruce's works, Meeting Point goes nowhere.

Bruce's choice of repertoire is also questionable. Jiri Kylian's Petite Mort, where women in corsets cavort with men in shorts, manages not only to ignore the music (Mozart's Elvira Madigan concerto), but to amputate it after the adagio, when the piece abruptly ends.

Ohad Naharin's Axioma 7 is set to equally familiar music, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. I don't know what the title means, but both the setting (a huge semicircle of chairs) and the choreography, with its repeated stripping, stamping, and clapping routines, are visually and kinetically arresting.

However, it was only in Didy Veldman's Kol Simcha (Voice of Celebration), to klezmer music by Adam Gorb, that the dancers could show their mettle as individuals. Revelers before the deluge, they clamber up ladders; creep, roach-like, along planks; stagger into crates; drink with the greed of junkies. The one false note comes at the end, when they raise their bottles to the audience like happy-hour tipplers.

A talented choreographer, Veldman is also a marvelous performer. In an otherwise stodgy performance of Robert Cohan's Stabat Mater, her musicality brought life to every pose, breath to every gesture. As the teenaged victim in Swansong, she seemed to transcend gender: with her easy athleticism and innocent glow, she was the essence of vulnerable young manhood.

Although few of the Rambert dancers are quite so exceptional, together they form an admirable ensemble. Indeed, it is because of their winning manners and integrity as artists that Bruce's populist strategy has proven so successful--at least in Britain.

RELATED ARTICLE: NYC REVIEW

The program for Everybody Goes 2 Disco from Moscow 2 San Francisco--Remix, which Zagreb's Montazstroj presented at P.S. 122 (September 26-29, 1996), details convoluted aims such as dividing "the body from the popculture armour" where "pop travesty (Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson) is replaced by the concrete body (Cicciolina, Magic Johnson)." As a hardworking trio of performers went through the generically athletic and aggressively gestural choreography of Borut Separovic, and spoke the Croatian text of dramaturg Goran Pristas, it became clear that perhaps a better title might be From the Favorite Devices of Pina Bausch to Those of Wim Vandekeybus. Montazstroj treated its audience to a series of miniepisodes about a spoiler intruding on a passionately involved couple. Essentially, the dancers serve as demonic characters who love/hale one another (as in Sartre's No Exit) and hector us with incomprehensible tirades. A motif of spitting on themselves or on one another particularly failed to hit its mark, so to speak.
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Author:Garafola, Lynn
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Dec 1, 1996
Words:759
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