Wim Vandekeybus’ work for Rambert was originally created and streamed live last year, when people were “desperate for old-fashioned physical interaction,” with the camera placed in the midst of the company dancers. It’s impossible to recreate this in the traditional set up of the Lyric theatre with its huge stage, but what the in-person iteration of Draw From Within lacks in the intimacy created by the streamed version’s unique perspective, it makes up for abundantly in other areas.
Perhaps surprisingly for a child of the pandemic, a nightmarish air of darkness and threat pervades the whole work. There is an opening montage of disturbing tableaux slowly uncovered by the light of a single flame; large hooks suspended from the ceiling on which the dancers hang themselves, corpse-like; and an extended scene inside a grim hospital corridor, where a dancer in the role of confused patient is stripped and ordered about wordlessly by blank-faced nurses.
It’s not all designed to send audiences screaming for the exits, though. Higher energy sections of Vandekeybus’ choreography showcase the company’s extraordinary talent, with a seamless flow of leaps, turns and spectacular acrobatics. One particularly memorable passage sees a maze of retractable cords criss-crossing the stage, pulled taut by dancers in angular poses, while other members of the cast vault over, dive under and occasionally get caught by the maze. In another, the ensemble dance with lit paper spills, weaving beautiful smoke trails that catch in the stage lights (and prompting me to wonder how much health and safety paperwork there is for this show).
In contrast to the seemingly boundless energy and power of these sections is a quieter moment of physical vulnerability, where the ensemble stagger and shuffle across the stage, convulsing as if in pain. This imitation of ageing and frailty is a stark reminder of the human condition, impactful in its small, understated movements and a demonstration of the company’s range.
This range extends beyond movement – in a literal interpretation of the piece’s title, the cast draw on huge pieces of paper that line the set. They also speak, reciting Ted Hughes poetry, verbally reacting to what’s happening around them, and when playing specific roles such as news reporters. These elements may have translated better directly to camera in the streamed version, as while they are often amusing and well-observed (such as the switchboard operator apologising for her Hungarian accent), they can also feel out of place, particularly when the dancers struggle to make their voices heard over the music.
The soundtrack tears yet another page from the rule book, combining dramatic percussion, brass, electric guitar, Latin rhythms and 1970s soul to conjure “contrasting, vivid theatrical worlds.”
Draw From Within is a truly modern work, full of pace, variety and unconventional elements, enabling its diverse cast of dancers to showcase their individual talents.
Rambert Draw from Within is at The Lowry from 6-8 October 2021.