Dance preview: Rambert Dance Company | Danish Dance Theatre
SITTING in the rehearsal room at Rambert's London headquarters, I find myself surrounded by Scottish influence.
In one corner stands Glasgow-born Mark Kimmett, a new recruit at Rambert after nine years with Scottish Ballet.
arming up nearby is Angela Towler, one of Rambert's shining stars, who hails from Peterculter near Aberdeen. While dancing across the floor are Gemma Nixon and Jonathan Goddard, both of whom cut their teeth at Scottish Dance Theatre.
Now, however, they all look perfectly at home at Rambert, one of the finest modern dance companies not just in Britain, but the world. Scotland prepared them well for what lay ahead; for Kimmett in particular, the smattering of contemporary works that Ashley Page brought to Scottish Ballet opened his eyes to life outside the classical repertoire.
"I went straight to Scottish Ballet from the Royal Ballet School," explains Kimmett. "During that time Ashley took over and wanted a different look for the company, and I really enjoyed working with contemporary choreographers like Siobhan Davies and Stephen Petronio.
"I think a lot of what you learn in classical ballet is about aesthetics, whereas contemporary movement is more functional and real – instead of defying gravity, you're going with it."
Like all dance companies, each day at Rambert starts with a class. Unlike most others, however, that class alternates between contemporary dance and classical ballet.
It's a duel approach to dancing that Kimmett has spent the past six months adjusting to. "When you see strong classical technique and aesthetics in a dancer that can move and tear up the stage, that's a great combination," he says.
"It will take time for me to develop into a different type of dancer, but I can use the classical technique I've worked with for so many years and take it down a different path."
That transition has been eased in no small part by the encouraging ethos at Rambert, perpetuated from the top down by artistic director, Mark Baldwin. "The environment here is very nurturing," says Kimmett.
"The dancers are fantastic and come from so many different backgrounds and training, that we help each other and complement each other in many ways."
Currently putting the finishing touches to Monolith, a new dance piece about to receive its world premiere in Edinburgh, choreographer Tim Rushton also found Rambert warm and welcoming.
"They're brilliant," he says during a break from rehearsals, "because they're non-judgemental, which is a very freeing thing for a choreographer. A lifted eyebrow at the wrong time of day can put me off for an hour. They don't have that at Rambert, there's a very good positive attitude towards the work here."
Born in the Midlands, and trained at the Royal Ballet School, Rushton left the UK aged 19 and never came back. Now, at 47, after years of successful choreography across Europe, his work will finally be seen on home soil – twice in one week. As well as Rambert performing Monolith at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Danish Dance Theatre – of which Rushton is artistic director – will visit the Macrobert in Stirling as part of its debut UK tour. What took him so long?
"Everybody's really curious about that – and yes it is a bit strange," says Rushton. "I think it's because I'm a very shy and modest person. A lot of choreographers are very pushy and ambitious, they've got really high self-esteem and want to get out there and do their stuff. I just like working with dancers."
The result, however, is that Rushton's work did the talking for him, encouraging Baldwin to commission him to create a new piece for Rambert's latest tour.
Depicting the lives of people gathered at an ancient meeting place, Monolith will sit alongside Aletta Collins' Awakenings (inspired by the book and film of the same name) and Henrietta Horn's stylish and witty Cardoon Club.
Ordinarily resistant to working outside his own company, the lure of Rambert was too great for Rushton to resist.
"I've said no to quite a few people in the past because working with a different company is very difficult," he explains. "You have to learn who they are, what they need, what kind of work is going to succeed there. It can be too overwhelming to go somewhere for three weeks and make something that's actually meaningful – and I'm not interested in creating something that isn't. But looking at Rambert's repertoire, I thought, okay, maybe my style will work."
Even watching a few brief moments of Monolith in rehearsal, it's safe to say Rushton's quest for a "meaningful" work has been achieved. Ripe with emotion, and beautifully in tune with Peteris Vasks' exquisite score, it's perfect Rambert territory. What are Rushton's hopes for his UK debut? "I'd like people to be captivated – if they are, I'll be happy".
Rambert Dance Company, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 16-18 February. Danish Dance Theatre, Macrobert, Stirling, 18-19 February. www.rambert.org.uk
This article was first published in Scotland On Sunday, 06 February, 2011
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