Ghost Dances and other works, Rambert at Theatre Royal Bath

CHRISTOPHER Bruce’s enduringly powerful and magical Ghost Dances, the most popular work ever performed by Rambert, forms the centrepiece in the current tour, at Bath Theatre Royal until 4th November.

The choreographer created the work in 1981, and must have been delighted to see the response from the Bath audience, packed with eager young dance lovers and students, those who might have seen it at its first outing and all those in between.

The majestic work, performed to the live accompaniment of pan pipes and Chilean strings and percussion, was sandwiched between two new works. The performance opens with Aletta Collins’s witty and inventive The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses. Ben Duke’s Goat, premiered days before in Edinburgh, brings the programme to a close.

Wild Horses, inspired by a 1981 short animated film called Tango, carries hints of Pina Bausch, in the use of accumulating repetitive movement, and early Matthew Bourne.

It is full of ideas and characters, funny, sexy, sad, at times deeply moving – the sequence with both men and women in elegant long deep plum dresses is very Bauschian and gorgeous to watch.

Goat, with a score of Nina Simone songs performed by Nia Lynn and a brilliant three-piece band led by musical director and creator Yshani Perinpanayagam, explores the idea of the scapegoat, with a nod also to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Here again there are references to Bausch  – and her shocking version of the work.

But it is also a satire on celebrity culture and the banality of so much media coverage – with the engaging Miguel Altunaga as the “presenter”. It feels like a work in progress, not entirely satisfying, but full of interesting ideas and powerful dancing.

But it was surely the excitement of seeing Ghost Dances that packed the Theatre Royal for Rambert’s visit, and it is Ghost Dances that siezes our attention and invades our consciousness.

We first saw in 2000 and have never forgotten it. There were still many Chilean refugees in this country, often playing their haunting pan pipe music in city centres like Bath. Bruce’s masterpiece is a response to the Chilean dictator Pinochet and his reign of terror. But it is also timeless – the hypnotic power of the ghost dancers holds the audience almost unable to breathe as they prowl and leap around the stage. Death walks amongst us.

It is visceral, primitive, a necessary reminder of the power and significance of ancient rituals at a time when it feels as if technology and reckless politicians are spinning our lives and the planet out of control.


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