Rambert Dance Company premiers its latest physics-inspired piece in Norwich

Dance feat/panel pix 6/11/14

Dance feat/panel pix 6/11/14 - Credit: Archant

Particle physics and the search for the origins of the universe have inspired the latest piece from the Rambert Dance Company. As it gets its premiere in Norwich alongside two revived works, SIMON PARKIN spoke to choreographer Mark Baldwin.

Dance feat/panel pix 6/11/14

Dance feat/panel pix 6/11/14 - Credit: Archant

For a subject so famously baffling to most of us who aren't Brian Cox, the scientific research into the origins of the universe that go on at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN certainly seems to have an appeal to artists.

Perhaps a subject so wondrous, but yet so mysterious, as the very forces that shaped the universe - and eventually our place in it - is just too intriguing for creative minds to ignore.

Consequently everyone from composers to painters to sculptors have been drawn to the European particle physics laboratory in Switzerland, where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the most powerful particle accelerator ever built, allows scientists to reproduce the conditions that existed within a billionth of a second after the Big Bang.

The latest creation inspired by this billion dollar scientific marvel is The Strange Charm of Mother Nature a dance piece by choreographer and Rambert Dance Company artistic director Mark Baldwin that makes up one third of programme for the company's latest visit to Norwich Theatre Royal.

Dance feat/panel pix 6/11/14

Dance feat/panel pix 6/11/14 - Credit: Archant

In three movements, accompanied by Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks and Quark Dances, a new piece composed by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, this interstellar new work sees dancers as quarks, gamma rays and black holes spinning, exploding and orbit one another recreating the energy of the elements which helped to create life and the universe.

This new piece, which comes to Norwich tonight fresh from its premiere, continues Baldwin's fascination with scientific discovery, following recent works inspired by Einsteinian physics and Darwin's theory of evolution.

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'I do find science an interesting trigger,' he admits, during a break in rehearsals at the Rambert's new base on London's South Bank.

'It just seems to me that Romeo and Juliet has been done, and being a contemporary company pieces about space and time seemed to me really fascinating and it is just the perfect excuse to do the most ingenious dancing without having to be literally literal with character and plot. It sort of frees the whole thing up; except that, of course, it doesn't free it up because then the challenge is structure and musicality. But the inspiration gives it something I think.'

The idea for The Strange Charm of Mother Nature came following a trip to the LHC by Baldwin, composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad and artist Katie Paterson, who is renowned for making art out of natural phenomena like starlight, moonlight and ice.

'We spent the whole day there,' says the choreographer who is clearly still entranced by the subject. 'We went down into LHC and met someone who tries to make anti-matter and spoke to particle physicists and had lunch with a cosmologist.'

Translating that heavy science into something so creative must be a challenge though?

'Well you start at the beginning and see how you get on. Quarks all have mass, colour and spin and they all behave in slightly different ways, some of them are heavier and the Higgs boson [the so called 'God particle' that the LHC was built to prove or disprove] gives them mass, so you have some connections and striking parallels there to get in there.

'The big thing is that it is all about moving. So we had this idea of circular movement and perhaps banging into each other to create something else. We had neutron stars circling each other quite slowly.

'It seemed quite poetic. I wasn't out to make a lesson in particle physics, it's all about poetry. I think it is nice to have big subjects like that because actually you can take them almost anywhere.'

In what will surely come as a relief to the physics novices amongst us, he says he is not trying to give the audience a lesson.

'You can always look at it as being all this movement and music is for your enjoyment, but just with a little something to think about,' he laughed.

'You're not trying to ram it down people's throats in terms of 'here is a physics lesson - sit down I'm going to tell you about particles'. For me as a choreographer it is a whole different way of approaching things and about coming up with creative solutions about how to make a dance piece that at its core has particle physics and a visit to the Hadron collider.

'When you're choreographing it of course, you are just looking into a big black hole and you just want to grab whatever you can. So it could be the universe expanding, it could be the darkest parts of space, it could be the amount of stars there are. You've got quarks, each with its colour and spin and then the idea of gamma ray bursts which can be the body or the stage kind of exploding.'

Did he have to tell the dancers to brush up on their physics homework? 'I give them the ideas - imagine your body is a galaxy and there is a huge explosion in one corner of it, what happens to the rest? As a result of that all of the duets they made up themselves based on the ideas I gave them.'

The choice of music, spectacular lighting representing the beauty of the cosmos by Mark Henderson, and the shimmering crystal covered costumes by Stevie Stewart, were all key to turning the scientific theory into theatrical magic.

'The musicality really drives it and when you get live musicians playing these pieces by Stravinsky and Bach it adds another layer, then the lighting designer went away and studied gamma ray bursts because that's what he wanted it to look like. It is how it comes together in the theatre. That is big shift. You can watch something in the studio but when you move it out into the theatre that is big jump.

'The Stravinsky seemed to be a striking parallel with what they were talking about and all the gamma ray bursts being the brightest and most colourful led to the costumes which are really bright gold and red with Swarovski crystals.'

The colourful, thoughtful piece is perfectly placed on the Theatre Royal programme between revivals of two very different old favourites.

Returning to the stage after 13 years, Rooster, Christopher Bruce's electrifying celebration of the swinging sixties set to music by the Rolling Stones is a modern classic and a firm favourite of audiences.

Sharp-suited, snake-hipped men and strong, sassy women perform virtuoso courtship dances to some of the Stones' most famous tunes, including Not Fade Away, Paint It Black, As Tears Go By, Sympathy for the Devil and, naturally, Little Red Rooster.

Meanwhile Lucinda Childs' Four Elements opens the show with eight dancers creating intricate patterns and geometric pathways displaying each element: Water, Earth, Air and Fire.

Renowned for her sleek minimalism and for turning the slightest movements into an intricate choreographic masterpiece, this work by the American choreographer is familiar to Mark as he appeared as a dancer when it had its Rambert premiere in 1990.

Why did he want to revive it? 'I think it's brilliant. It is one of those pieces where all the music and all the dancing was made for the piece. At the time she was like one of the most distinguished choreographers in the world. If you want to see contemporary art on the stage; this piece is probably the most arty thing that we do.'

It is a piece that is renowned for its structure and intricacy - and however graceful it looks, it is challenge for the dancers.

'It is an extraordinarily difficult piece for the dancers to do because they have to count like crazy and do all these very difficult things. There is a man's section where it is all tiny jumps, coming on and off together and that is so difficult and so hard on the calves. You can barely walk afterwards, but in terms of the dancers in moves them up a level.'

• Rambert Dance Company, Norwich Theatre Royal, November 6-7, 7.30pm, 1.30pm Nov 7, £23-£5.50, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk


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