Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

four stars

PAST and present rub shoulders in this Rambert@90 mixed bill, with two recent repertoire additions somewhat eclipsed by Christopher Bruce’s Ghost Dances (1981), which was last seen in 2003, and is the most requested work in the company’s back catalogue.

It is easy to see why audiences crave re-runs of Ghost Dances. Even if they don’t know much about the factual background to the choreography – Bruce was responding viscerally to the brutal killings and torture that tainted Chile during General Pinochet’s governance – the way in which the dead intermingle with the living gives rise to universally affecting images of transience and loss. Three Ghosts rise out of a rocky landscape. Heads are grotesque skulls, ashen-pale bodies are clad in ancient tatters, yet these bodies are muscular, their moves athletic, as if the spirit and character of the land remains vital within them. When the music creeps in, so do the wandering souls who represent the oppressed and disappeared. If there is a wonderful folk-lorique simplicity to the dances Bruce sets to the South American percussing-piping tunes – played and sung live – there is nonetheless a harrowing edge to the way jaunty courtship duets, or fleet-footed ensembles all have a dying fall. Superbly danced, Ghost Dances continues as a compelling reminder of regimes who wage war on their own people.

Will audiences be clamouring to see either Alexander Whitley’s Frames (2015) or Lucy Guerin’s Tomorrow (2016) in future decades? There is a fascinating complexity to Frames –in which dancers briskly configure metal poles into various structures – that rewards further viewings, if only to admire the clever juxtapositions of pliant bodies and rigid steel. Tomorrow, however, is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, where Guerin’s close acquaintance with Shakespeare’s Macbeth leads her into a topsy-turvy deconstruction where the movement is often interesting but actual meaning slips through slats in the set. Tomorrow, I fear, already belongs to the past.