IN the days before Strictly Come Dancing when the Frank and Peggy Spencer Formation Team from Penge were top dogs in the even-longer-running Come Dancing on television and Victor Silvester was teaching people to dance on radio to his strict tempo Ballroom Orchestra, you never heard the spoken word or a singer intrude on the music.
During that period most choreographers would have thrown up their hands in horror at the thought of anything getting in the way of the dancers interpreting the music. One who would not have taken such a blinkered attitude was Dame Marie Rambert, founder of Rambert. Always open to new ideas, she was at the forefront of modern dance throughout her long and distinguished career as a teacher, choreographer and pioneer of touring ballet. She would therefore no doubt have approved of Ben Duke’s mixing of dialogue and vocals with contemporary dance movement in this double bill of Cerberus and Goat.
In Cerberus we are told the story of Orpheus and Eurydice via actors and dancers, who have a musical mixture of Moderat, ASMZ, Monteverdi and improvised sounds from drums, singer and guitar, as a canvas to paint on. The result is like a Picasso or Jackson Pollock abstract painting – all the story is there, but not in the clear-cut images of an old master.
The owner of a first class degree in literature, Ben Duke loves to explore the overlap between dance and the theatre, and under his direction the dancers throw up many allegories between Orpheus and Eurydice’s struggles to be together and live a happy and fruitful life with the struggles of modern day young couples.
On the face of it, Goat is a much simpler tale. A not very good, or overly bright TV presenter is sent with camera-man to cover a group gathered to chose a man – because animal rights protesters do not approve of an animal being used – as a sacrifice. Throughout the process Mr TV does all those things that irritate the thinking viewer – interrupting at inappropriate moments and asking the most obvious and inane questions. Sometimes he interrupts the company when they are in full imaginative dance flight, making you want to shout out and tell him to disappear.
It is only as the story draws to a conclusion that you can find any sympathy for this representative of the shallow world of mass media, as it dawns on him that this is not reality TV but the Real Thing. His final gesture, taking the sacrificial Goat’s place, is a bit hard to swallow following on from a beautiful pas de deux between the Goat and his true love. It’s made all the more emotional by Sheree DuBois’ beautiful singing of Nina Simone’s Feelings. Throughout the piece, using other Nina Simone numbers, Sheree with Caroline Jaya-Ratnam on piano, Romarna Campbell on drums and Dave Manington on bass, helped to change the mood and atmosphere of the story, and Feeling Good brought the dancers vividly alive.
At times you felt the Ben Duke who devised and directed the Death Trap, in itself a rather ambiguous title, was firing off shots from an old fashioned scatter-gun, unworried by which target he would hit, be it political, social, dramatic or pure fun. He may not have hit them all, but he did produce an evening of dance, singing and spoken word which demanded your attention and left you with a great deal to think about on the way home.
Photographs by Camilla Greenwell