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Rambert in Ben Duke's Death Trap (Goat) photography by Camilla Greenwell
Rambert in Ben Duke's Death Trap (Goat) photography by Camilla Greenwell

Rambert Dance Death Trap: Review

Home » Reviews » Rambert Dance Death Trap: Review

The 2020s is blazing a trend for all things meta. So, it’s not surprising to find Rambert leading the charge for dance by staging a meta dance comedy. But what on earth does it mean?

Death Trap is a new double-bill from Ben Duke, which links two of his previous pieces for Rambert – Cerberus (2022) and his Olivier nominated, Goat (2017). For those who have seen the pieces before, here they remain distinct either side of an interval, but the first piece ends without a curtain call for the dancers and on their return, there is some fluidity in characterisation and, in keeping with the meta theme, there is self-referencing between the two.

Duke is known for creating work that explores the overlaps between dance and theatre, and this programme feels more a work of combined arts than dance. In some ways this makes it a perfect entry point for people unfamiliar with contemporary dance. There is no need to be concerned you won’t know what it is about because this is made clear through dialogue and there is lots of it. For dance purists this could feel a little irritating, but the layers upon layers of referencing will likely give everyone something to chuckle at, even if that something is themselves.

The evening opens with Cerberus, loosely based on the Greek myth Orpheus and Eurydice. Here the mix of real and unreal is used to create a sense of the confusion and disbelief that often accompanies grief. Aishwarya Raut (all characters use dancers’ real names) introduces the concept from a mic off stage. Her entrance at stage right signifies her birth and exiting stage left she dies – or does she?

Rambert dancers in Ben Duke's Cerberus photo by Camilla Greenwell
Rambert dancers in Ben Duke’s Cerberus photo by Camilla Greenwell

There is a slapstick comedy element to Antonello Sangiradi’s attempts both to bring back his friend and to stop other dancers experiencing the same fate, but the grief in this mythical tale is so deep-seated there were no audible laughs from the audience on Thursday evening. That said, the light-hearted take on an ancient tale stops the early evening from falling hard into melancholy and the dancers, fuelled by the thumping energy of Romarna Campbell on drums, don’t let us lose sight of life by turning this funeral cortège into a gothic club scene.

After the interval we are all relieved to find Aishwarya is indeed still alive and has now taken the role of a roving TV reporter who insists on getting verbal explanations from each of the dancers about what their movements mean. The audience warms much more to the comedy in this piece with some genuine laugh out loud moments as well as spontaneous whoops and applause, particularly after the exhilarating choreography to Ain’t Got No, I Got Life.

Goat is inspired by the music and spirit of Nina Simone performed on stage by a three-piece band with singer, Sheree DuBois. While this gives a sense of something older, Death Trap as a whole is very much a tale for today and one aimed more at a Gen Z audience.

Rambert dancers Joseph Kudra Archie White Simone Damberg Würtz and Conor Kerrigan in Ben Duke's Death Trap (Cerberus) photography by Camilla Greenwell
Rambert dancers Joseph Kudra Archie White Simone Damberg Würtz and Conor Kerrigan in Ben Duke’s Death Trap (Cerberus) photography by Camilla Greenwell

The overall narrative of Goat is a dark one, focused on a bizarre ritual where one dancer, Jonathan Wade, is chosen to be sacrificed by dancing himself to death. It is all played out on TV with on stage camera zoomed into the dancers’ faces and played back on a screen at the front of the stage. At times there is so much going on with the cameras, the band, the singer, and the acting, that it is not surprising the dance loses focus. But when given centre stage the dance is both intense and mesmerising.

Overall, I enjoyed my first step into self-conscious, meta dance comedy, but I know if I was 20 again, I would have loved it. This was clear in the audience response too. It is a rollercoaster of melodrama, so strap in tight for an emotional ride through the hormone-fuelled passions and fears of youth.

Rambert Dance Death Trap is at The Lowry from 18 – 20 April 2024. As a partner company of The Lowry, Rambert will return again to The Lowry in the Autumn as they bring back Peaky Blinders: The Redemption of Thomas Shelby from 22 to 26 October 2024.

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Written by
Carmel Thomason
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Avatar photo Written by Carmel Thomason