Vaslav Nijinsky’s L'après-midi d'un faune is having a bit of a “moment” this year. The century-old piece, first performed in Paris by Nijinsky himself, was shown by English National Ballet in March as part of their Ballets Russes tribute; now it’s the turn of Rambert, Britain’s biggest contemporary dance company, to dust down its longstanding version of the horny goatboy.
In the role of the titular Faun, Dane Hurst is fantastically vital. Gone are the awkward placements of ENB’s March performance; here is a vigorous, sensual faun whose hormonal approach to the lead Nymph sends shivers down the spine. The rest of the cast are still little more than travelling backdrops in Nijinsky’s highly-mannered, urn-inspired choreography, but Debussy’s ecstatic score sits much better on this voluptuous version.
A new short work, What Wild Ecstasy, is billed as a modern response to Nijinsky’s Faune. Performed by a much larger cast dressed in a costume-designer’s idea of 1990s rave chic, all neon hotpants and pink sheepskin vests, the piece is more orbital party than pastoral idyll. Beneath a spectacular hanging set of three enormous wasps we find rolling duets and moments of tribal unity, the whole company shuffling as one in flexed Afro postures and coming together with wild arabesques. It’s just a shame the whole thing was set to Gavin Higgins’s plodding orchestral score and not the vintage-era Primal Scream it sorely needed.
Elsewhere in the programme the company revives Siobhan Davies’s always elegant The Art of Touch. A sensitive choreographic response to a baroque score by Domenico Scarlatti with seamless modern additions by Matteo Fargion, The Art of Touch looks playfully at the ways in which dancers touch the floor, each other and the music with their bodies, plucking notes from the air and scuttling through Scarlatti’s ornamental runs with lightning-paced combinations. In amongst the flashing forms are moments of sheer play – dancers do the twist, knock on wood and jump into a series of invisible puddles. Formal but characterful, this effervescent work suits the company very well indeed.
The UK premiere of Itzik Galili’s all-male Sub completes a long programme. Originally created in 2009 on the choreographer’s own company, Dansgroep Amsterdam, it's all snaking torsos, shooting limbs and fast canons. There’s a connection here with Davies’s piece in that Sub concerns itself with touching the intangible — dancers reaching empty hands towards points in space that are no doubt deep and inscrutable. Seven muscular men in ruched kilts — calling to mind the late Alexander McQueen — give a fine performance, but like the repeated gestures made towards empty spaces, it’s all show and no substance.
See Rambert Dance Company's Mixed Bill at Sadler’s Wells tonight and Saturday - tickets from £12.