Review: Life Is A Dream. Ballet Rambert. (touring) Curve Leicester.

Ballet Rambert never do things by halves and this superb dance production of Life Is A Dream based on the Spanish baroque play of the same name, written by Calderón de la Barca circa 1635, is no exception. The premise lies on the insight that we only have a tenuous grip on what is real. As choreographer Kim Brandstrup says in the programme introduction “… we have to come to terms with the ephemeral and fugitive nature of reality.”

Set in a massive dilapidated rehearsal room in the 1950s the director character has fallen asleep at his tiny desk. He is awoken by a series of characters entering the room in dance form and begins to start (or continue) a rehearsal for Life Is A Dream the play. Confused about his state of reality the director continues not knowing if the rehearsals process is real or is imagined. As things get more and more surreal through Witold Lutoslavski’s strikingly affective music of memory and caprice, the emotionally wrought dance itself and the brilliant projections, we get more and more drawn into this strange world. All the dancers and dance are technically sublime and at times it seems we are seeing ghosts of the dancers dancing across the walls and the movement has strong echoes of the mesmerising stripped back world of the Polish actors in Grotowski’s experimental performances.

Huge wind tossed trees are glimpsed out in the dark scary world of outside. The dancer personalities  react as the director character creates his illusions. Elements of the play (through dance) are revisited, recast and replayed. The director assumes supernatural powers that give him licence to control and orchestrate. There are many visual references to the worlds of madness and restriction both in the dance and old mercury mirror coloured costumes designed by Holly Waddington and The Quay Brothers. The walls of the room are often filled with fantastical images, often of a heavily religious nature and give a spooky appearance of a distorted x ray version of real things. The lighting design is by Jean Kalman and sound design by Ian Dearden. The Life Is A Dream orchestra is conducted by Chris George during the Curve Leicester run.

The second half finds us in a meta version of staging as the whole back wall is now revealed as being back stage with all the realistic support apparatus evident in the set construction. A large theatre light on a truck is used as a stark means of focus throwing the rest of the dance space in deep shadow. Once more as choreographer Kim Brandstrup says in the programme “In the second half of the evening he (the director character) ventures outside the boundaries of his rehearsal room to conquer the world beyond, only to realise that he, like the prince, cannot reach, see and hold onto the outside world. His journey finally sees him return to the safe haven of his initial dream space.”

As George Bernard Shaw said “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Whilst Life Is A Dream is about the illusory nature of existence; the way that Rambert communicate most authentically and thrillingly through dance is no illusion at all. They continue to be top notch in the world of flawless and inspirational modern dance.

Highly recommended thought provoking dance. Life Is A Dream runs at Curve Leicester until Saturday 2nd March.


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