Rambert is to premiere a season of livestream dance productions featuring choreographers from across Europe in an exciting programme created specifically for audiences at home.
The series, which includes four works throughout 2021, follows the phenomenal success of the company’s live-stream of Wim Vandekeybus’ Draw From Within which saw global audiences en-joying Rambert on screen last autumn.
Norwegian choreographer Jo Strømgren’s new piece Rooms will launch the series in April. This will be followed by a summer programme featuring a new work from sister and brother team Imre van Opstal and Marne van Opstal alongside Rouge from French choreographer Marion Motin, re-worked for the screen. And the autumn will see Rambert2 performing a new piece created by Rambert artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer.
What sets the season apart is that all of the works will be filmed and shared in real time on Rambert Home Studio, the company’s online portal.
“Every organisation has had to adapt because of the current situation and Rambert decided it would be an opportunity to think differently,” Benoit says. “And for us this is live-streams. These works are not archival pieces, they are created for a different media – the screen. Our idea is to immerse the audience in the work so Rambert’s live-stream experiences give the audience a jour-ney they cannot see in the theatre. It is uniquely designed and danced for the audience to have a one-of-a-kind experience.”
Benoit and Rambert have risen to the challenges, and the opportunities, which the pandemic and lockdown bring.
“I feel there’s an audience out there who are eager and hungry for work and what is important for me right now is that we create. It’s in these kind of moments, when the world is in chaos, that we most need art with a capital A. What we can do is dance and it’s so important for us to entertain, to ask questions and to put what we believe on stage. And this is for audiences all around the world right now. This is probably the first time since World War Two that so many of us are living the same kind of experience. We understand one another more than ever because we are living the same thing.”
In order to ensure the new pieces are specifically tailored for live but online audiences, Rambert has commissioned choreographers with experience of working with film.
“The idea of our live-stream theatre is to get into the brain of the creator – we see the work through their eyes and it is a very different way of experiencing a work,” Benoit explains. “When you perform on a proscenium or as an installation, you create a picture but you give the audience room to wander. With live-stream it’s more controlled because you can make the audience watch exactly the way you would like them to watch – from above, the side, the front.”
And it is not just choreographers who are grasping this new way of working.
“We are asking unconventional things from our dancers, such as dancing at 1am to perform live to American audiences or in front of a film crew, but our dancers are really taking the challenge and running with it. I like to believe that offering our dancers different ways of expressing themselves will make them grow as performers.”
The success of Draw From Within, which was live-streamed in September, showed the immense possibilities for virtual work.
“For the premiere of Draw From Within, I was in my office in front of the computer too,” recalls Benoit. “I was excited and anxious but this work transported me – sometimes it was dark, some-times absurd, sometimes very exciting, a huge range of emotions. On the screen it became magi-cal. I hope that we can create and catch that again with this new season. I hope people will be en-tertained in the fullest sense of the word.”
The medium may be different but the emotional impact remains.
“When I have a show in a theatre, people who watch it will talk about what they have seen and how it made an impact, maybe made them laugh or provoked other basic human emotions. And the goal is the same for live-streaming. I am not trying to compare this with a theatre experience because I don’t think it should be compared but I do think we can compare the feeling you have after watching the show.”
Launching the season, Jo Strømgren’s Rooms will be performed live at Rambert’s headquarters on London’s South Bank on April 8-11 and will be broadcast on Rambert Home Studio. The company’s cross-platform web application also has a wealth of other content from podcasts and dancer inter-views to behind-the-scenes and classes to take from home.
To support partner theatres around the world, Rambert is selling tickets through regional venues including in the UK Oxford Playhouse, Theatre Royal Bath, Royal Theatre Plymouth, The Lowry in Salford, Wales Millennium Centre, Nottingham Theatre Royal, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Birming-ham Hippodrome, Norwich Theatre and Mayflower in Southampton. Tickets cost £10 for individuals, £15 a household or £20 including a donation.
Rooms takes audiences through a modern cityscape by offering brief views through the windows of different people’s lives, creating a mosaic in tiny vignettes.
“I was thinking about how to express the growing alienation and confusion that we feel in Western metropolitan societies today,” explains Jo. “The most truthful experience you have of what’s going on is maybe a bicycle ride you take through a city, not too quick, so you have time to see through the windows as you pass through. You get these glimpses of lives and you realise there is so much going on but you have no idea what is happening or why.”
Rooms features around 100 characters across 36 scenes with 17 dancers taking the different roles.
“You can read all you like about what is a society but during such a bicycle ride you get the real di-versity of a city. Diversity is a bouquet of different colours and I love it,” says Jo. “But I think the discussion has been limited to certain issues whereas diversity is so vast – diversity of age, diversity of social status, diversity of ethnicity, religion, politics.”
A dancer, choreographer, film and theatre director, Jo has created more than 150 works in more than 60 countries and is acutely aware of difference and diversity.
“I come from a small place up in the North of Norway. We are a minority, there are only five million Norwegian speakers in the world, and we haven’t been part of the colonial luggage. But my father was a marine biologist so we had to be in tropical and sub-tropical areas all the time and I was al-ways the outsider having to integrate and assimilate, the stranger representing the diversity. Even today when I visit the cities who are now defining these discussions around diversity, I feel like an outsider. That is a good position to be in if you are going to reflect on something, to not be in the middle but outside seeing what is going on.”
Jo worked with the Rambert dancers at the beginning of the year on Rooms and, as with Draw From Within, the company imposed strict measures to ensure safety.
“It’s really a challenge working round COVID – you need to be creative not just in the artistic way but also in solving problems,” Jo says. “But Rambert has been through this process already so had a system of procedures so I was very clear on what I could and could not do.
“This idea of using different rooms and different cameras was perfect for working with isolated bubbles. We had three bubbles of dancers with no contact between them. There was an outbreak in one bubble so we just shut that bubble down and worked as normal with another until they were able to return. It has been a challenge but we found solutions.”
As theatres re-open, Rambert will soon announce its in-venue performance tour which will sit alongside these livestreams giving audiences a choice of different ways to experience their per-formances.
Following Rooms, Rambert will present a summer live-stream which will be a double bill. Siblings Imre van Opstal and Marne van Opstal have built their reputation at Nederlands Dans Theater as both performers and choreographers and Benoit is keen to bring their new vision to the UK.
“I saw their work a couple of years ago and I felt a real sense that it was young and has so much potential,” he says. “I am always excited to invite the next generation to work with us and I believe they have something exciting to say.”
Their premiere will be performed alongside a new production of Marion Motin’s Rouge, which was danced by Rambert on stage in 2019 but will now be re-worked as a live film.
“It will be different because I’m inviting Marion back to do it with a focus on the live-stream. I want to see the piece through her eyes when it’s live-streamed, that will make it unique.”
And Benoit will be creating the final piece for the season for Rambert2 in the autumn.
“I believe the second company should also have a chance to play with this medium because it is so much fun,” he explains. “You can go from one thing to another in a matter of a second and that’s magical. I want Rambert2 to experience this so I will work with them to create something which would not be possible on stage.”
Benoit believes the company is just at the beginning of a journey into live-streaming which offers so far untapped potential.
“We have created something unique and I will take this where I can. Rambert is the flagship com-pany which will come to you and give you really high value productions that you might not normally be able to see because of where you are located or your finances or there may be another reason you cannot come to a theatre.
“This time has given us an opportunity to try a new way of working and we can continue to build on this, creating something innovative, dynamic and different for new audiences.”
For more information on Rooms and to book tickets go to rambert.org.uk
Words by: By Diane Parkes
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