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Simon Weir

Rambert Dance Company: A New Building, and A New Era

16 May 2014 Charlie Kenber

We spoke to Artistic Director of Rambert, Mark Baldwin, about the new building, this season, and emerging talent...

When Madame Rambert founded her dance company in the early 20th Century, it seems hard to believe that she’d imagine it would ever reach the heights it’s at today. With a remarkable reputation for producing some of the best large-scale contemporary work in this country, the company both maintains a strong focus on developing new talent and supporting exciting young choreographers, whilst simultaneously reworking and restaging contemporary classics.

Each year the company stages an eclectic season of work, and this range has become something of a trademark. “Our repertoire is vociferous,” Artistic Director Mark Baldwin tells me, “I keep telling the dancers that there’ll be pieces they hate, and pieces they love. We’re a conduit for works from the past, because we’re in a way responsible for the historic parts of contemporary dance, which is fairly new. Without a history there isn’t an art form!”

As well as looking back however the company is keenly focussed on advancing the modern form, “contemporary dance, for me, is everything that’s gone before, plus, not less,” Mark continues. It is this drive which motivates the company to work with a remarkable breadth of artists and new talent, “that’s always been the push, to work with whatever artists or musicians are current,” he says.

One part of this involves keeping the work within each season balanced between accessible and challenging elements, a necessity instigated by Rambert’s focus on travelling with their work. “We tour outside London…and I’ve got to make the programmes accessible for them, attractive if that’s possible. Also we come to London – which is probably one of the most critical places in the world – so it has to be the high-end of the art market. Getting that mix is the hardest part.”

Aside from providing an additional outlet for the work, touring plays a fundamental part in the company’s principles. “We’ve always toured in the regions, that’s what we do.” Mark affirms. “London’s quite a privileged place and there’s such a lot of art here, that to actually take a London company like this – which basically deals in ideas, music and fantastic dancers – out on the road is amazing. People usually really appreciate it. It’s not overflowing sometimes like it is in London, but that doesn’t matter. It’s about the fact that we go at all, that we teach workshops, that we’re vigorous and we care.”

“We’ve done several projects where we go out on the road and then the locals join in. Those are the sorts of projects I really enjoy…you feel like you’re not just going and putting on a performance of something that was created in London, but you’re actually going and being part of something.”

What of the new building then? For Mark it denotes an important milestone in his directorship. “It’s been amazing,” he tells me, “the Queen came and opened it: as you do! It’s made a difference creatively: there are lots more spaces you can go to and be on your own if you want to dream up what’s happening next. It’s really central too so people can visit.”

Importantly, it also gives Rambert better resources with which to carry out their artist development, as well as their work in the community. “We take choreographic development quite seriously, so we’re always looking to bring people in to help the young choreographers, and we also bring in composers. Of course choreographers are sort of a rare talent, and we’ll be lucky if we get one, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try like crazy to get everyone into a deeper understanding of what it means to move people around on stage and call it art.”

The current season of work is as varied as you’d expect from the company, but for Mark it also has an historical significance. “Christopher Bruce started learning off Madame Rambert when he was 14, so he’s now in his late 60s,” he tells me, “and Lucinda Childs, I always call her the royal family of New York, so sure of her own choreographic structural abilities, and the first choreographer to work with Philip Glass. She’s amazing, and then there’s Richard Alston. I was lucky enough to be a dancer here when he was director, and his whole thing is music, and so we’re lucky we have a live orchestra which we tour everywhere.”

Are there any particular trends that Rambert are engaging with at the moment? “I think the idea of trends – you should make it up yourself really. Each choreographer has their own way of thinking or their own way of moving, whether it’s ballet or dance on stage. It’s really about developing that sole voice, which can be quite lonely and isolating but that’s what it is.”

With a new building and a new base, Rambert is clearly a company that will continue to push the boundaries of contemporary dance, whilst simultaneously celebrating what has come before. “I think it’s an exciting company because of the amount of new music we put out,” Mark says. “Also we really try and be warm and friendly. In every programme if someone wandered in off the street who didn’t know anything about dance they would get it. And for those who see quite a lot there is something for them as well. The kind of respect we have for composers and music differentiates us in a contemporary market.”

Rambert’s current season of work takes place at Sadler’s Wells from 20th – 24th May. Full listings available here.

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