Draw From Within – Rambert

Mar 12, 2021

Martha Buss

Martha Buss


Venue: Rambert Home Studio (digital viewing)
Date: 26 September 2020
Ticket price: £10

In a creation for the camera, audiences are led on an enticing, yet uneasy, journey through a modern nightmare.

In my sitting room, lights off, pyjamas on, I connected my laptop to the television waiting for 8pm to strike. The excitement in anticipation of live performance after months of withdrawal gave me immediate confidence this would be a successful experiment in how dance can digitally adapt to a socially distant season. It was exhilarating to see work that had been made specifically for its medium in this challenging time for the arts. The camera acts as both a silent observer and an addressable character throughout Draw From Within as it follows the cast around Rambert’s South Bank studios. Choreographer Wim Vandekeybus uses this format to break away from a familiar theatrical experience and instead pull us directly into the action. The use of a lens allows for greater influence over an audience’s gaze: Vandekeybus has us exactly where he wants us and we are unable to miss even finite details of the story. Situated this way, within the performance, enhanced my sense of self and provided a tantalising level of adrenaline throughout.

A monologue conceptualising nothingness immediately sets the thought-provoking tone before the audience is led down a dark staircase in which our curiosity is physically ignited through a lit match. I became aware as to why the viewing classification was 12A as the eerie suspense felt somewhat comparable to a foreboding thriller. I was hooked on its haunting atmosphere. Symbolism around light reappeared, yet interestingly more importance was placed on its extinguishment rather than its burn. Enigmatic smoke kick-started the dancers’ frantic scramble through phrases of suspension and support, moving with undeniable purpose until an imagined Puppet Master cut their strings limp. The company were scooped and dropped around the space in true Flying Low fashion. The loud metallic clangs that accompanied never failed to enduce angst: like listening to nails on a chalkboard, the unsettled atmosphere made it impossible to relax.

A false sense of security is noted as the line between dream and nightmare is repeatedly toyed with. We are afforded a moment to indulge in a coy kiss chase, with the camera acting as an intimate voyeur to a nostalgic love story. A harsh reality interjects and in doing so traps the young lover in the centre of a brooding hunt where escape seems unlikely. The moving set is a risk-assessment nightmare but Vandekeybus’ intricate choreography utilises this danger to keep audiences on the edge of their sofas whilst displaying trust and cohesion amongst the dancers. Attention to composition is clear as the use of lighting extenuates the dancer’s range of technical abilities and, set within un-refined phrasing, invites us to renounce preconceptions of ‘beautiful’ movement.

Salomé Pressac in Wim Vandekeybus’s Draw From Within. © Camilla Greenwell

The production overtly references the current social and political landscape. There is particular attention to the nature of communication and how our lives are documented in a culture of sensationalized media. As this spirals out of control, we see a celebration of life turn into a chaotic crime scene, and subsequently, a white flag of surrender is mustered. The use of facemasks and ‘hazmat’ suits certainly placed the production firmly in 2020. Costuming becomes less subtle in the concluding scenes and instead is utilised in an uncomfortable clinical setting to highlights oppressive control and a fear of foreignism. A prisoner’s instinctual defenses set in, before the dancers come together in motifs that depict repetitive setbacks and obstructions to any progress being made.  

Since the company’s new artistic direction in 2018, Rambert has been pushing boundaries in contemporary staging, and Draw From Within continues to uphold its renowned standards in this ambitious display of creative skill. Combining tribal movement, sardonic speech and ambitious props in this character-driven narrative hints at further opportunities the company could explore in the realm of physical theatre. The edgy new era for the company is exciting, but I feel unfamiliar and awkward conceptions risk alienating a generational audience attached to its more classic Ballet Rambert roots.

Despite a technical glitch canceling the original performance, Rambert’s resilience allowed most paying audience members to join a rescheduled screening. Although some were forced to request a refund, I have both sympathy and admiration for the creative team whose work was put in jeopardy by a misbehaving server. The production’s success can be clearly measured through Rambert’s announcement of more live-streamed performances for their 2021 season, with Rooms premiering in April. Marketed as a ‘daftly ambitious dance-theatre-film’, I for one will be interested to see where the audience’s will be transported this time.

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