Dance review: Rambert: Aisha and Abhaya

Fusing live action and pre-recorded video, Rambert’s spectacular show about two refugee sisters bodes well for the company’s future, writes Kelly Apter
Rambert's Aisha and Abhaya PIC: Foteini Christofilopoulou / ROH and RambertRambert's Aisha and Abhaya PIC: Foteini Christofilopoulou / ROH and Rambert
Rambert's Aisha and Abhaya PIC: Foteini Christofilopoulou / ROH and Rambert

Rambert: Aisha and Abhaya, Edinburgh Festival Theatre *****

When Aisha and Abhaya opened at the Royal Opera House in January 2020, there was a feeling in some quarters that Rambert’s latest work didn’t quite “hang together", that the mix of film and choreography felt disparate and ill-defined. Two years later, the connective tissue that fuses these two elements remains opaque – but after the performance delivered on Thursday night, I’m inclined not to care.

Sharon Eyal’s distinctive movement has been enjoyed in Edinburgh before, most recently at the 2018 International Festival with Love Cycle. She makes dancers do things you’d swear at your exercise teacher for – lactic acid-inducing pliés, fast, tiny movements that heat up every muscle and sinew. Here, the six performers prove themselves at the top of their game, bending and stretching with astounding grace and poise, then contorting into grotesque shapes or teetering on tip-toe as they stamp their feet to the beat.

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Eyal’s long-term collaborator Ori Lichtik once again provides those pounding beats, embellished by rising British star GAIKA. Together they create a soundscape that sucks you into the action, as does the superb animation and projection, providing an incredible, ever-shifting backdrop.

When Benoit Swan Pouffer took over as artistic director of Rambert in late 2018, he promised to shake things up a bit, and he’s certainly done that. Matchmaking director Kibwe Tavares and choreographer Sharon Eyal on this is a great early move that bodes well for the future. While it may be hard to see the join between what’s happening live on stage and the short film about Aisha and Abhaya – two sisters washed up on foreign shores after witnessing a brutal attack in their homeland – that’s a task for the viewer to dig into. Or you could simply let it all wash over you and just enjoy the spectacle.

Until 12 February

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