Renowned dance company Rambert bringing world's top young talents to Belfast

A new junior ensemble born from the original British dance brand will be channelling its flawless artistry in a specially chosen trio of new and old works

Innovation is Rambert’s lifeblood. After all, pioneering pedagogue Marie Rambert’s company was the first to be established in the UK, eventually shedding its classical repertory to concentrate on contemporary fare. Now, 92 years after its initial performance in London, the company is once again trying something new: Rambert2.

A newly-formed junior company comprising 13 recently-graduated dancers from around the world, Rambert2 will set out across the UK to perform works by distinguished choreographers Sharon Eyal, Benoit Swan Pouffer and Rafael Bonachela. Not only will they grace a range of the country’s stages, including Belfast's The MAC on February 22/23, but this young troupe (aged between 19 and 25) will also foray into schools to perform Ohad Naharin’s Kamuyot.

The excitement emanating from Rambert2’s chosen few is palpable. 'I’ve been watching Rambert since I was a young boy and I remember seeing quite a few dancers onstage who I’m now taking classes with. It’s amazing!' laughs Conor Kerrigan, a recent graduate from London Contemporary Dance School. 'The whole package was such a draw for me – working professionally with Rambert as well as completing a master’s degree, it’s an honour.'

It’s also a process full of intense learning curves. 'The physical aspect of it is hard, especially coming straight out of training and into creation without any downtime. You really need to be on it with nutrition and preparation. It’s such a challenge but it’s so motivating to see your peers and colleagues in the main company. They inspire you to get to that level, to be your best every day.'

For Aishwarya Raut, who was born in Mumbai and trained at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, tackling Rambert2’s range of repertory is a highlight. 'Your body gets to understand a particular movement quality and then the next week you’re doing something completely different. Having that adaptability is difficult, but as part of a rep company it’s just what you have to do.'

Since beginning rehearsals in July, the dancers have forged a strong bond, says Salome Pressac, a graduate of the Rambert school. 'We’re kind of like a family, we support each other and if someone’s not feeling their best we’ll hold them up, we won’t neglect them. Everyone knows how company life is: sometimes certain people do more than others, but that’s just like the nature of it and you have to get used to that as a professional.' 'It’s a lot of pressure, there are a lot of eyes on you,' Kerrigan adds. 'It really teaches you about professionalism.'

Rambert2 dancers © Foteini Christofilopoulou

Rambert2 dancers performing new work Grey Matter © Foteini Christofilopoulou

There’s another cutting-edge element. Integrated into the programme is an MA in Professional Dance Performance, formulated by Amanda Britton, principal of the Rambert school. Having been a point of discussion between the school and the company for a while, the project crystallised around the combination of an MA with a fully professional contract, says Rambert’s chief executive Helen Shute. 'It was really important that if we were going to have a junior company it was for people who were out of school and ready to work. I was adamant that they’d be paid, so they’re able to live properly and have a functional adult life.' The dancers receive a bursary equivalent to the London living wage.

Meanwhile, the MA is part and parcel of each dancer’s life within Rambert2. It’s a post-graduate degree that aims to develop them into truly reflective performers. As Britton explains, 'theoretical work is wholly connected to what they are experiencing in the studio and on stage. We believe that the transferable skills the dancers develop through their research will support their development as individuals and as performers, enabling them to emerge as independent ‘thinking dancers’ demanded by today’s profession.'

Careful thought was given to the choice of choreographers for this new ensemble. 'There’s a tendency to pair emerging dancers with emerging choreographers and obviously when that happens naturally it can be the beginning of a collaboration that goes on for years,' Shute notes, 'but sometimes I feel that young dancers have the most to gain from working with people who are really experienced and established. Those choreographers have so much to give to those young dancers because they’re not developing their own practice at the same time.' It was essential to choose creators with their own companies, like Sharon Eyal, she explains, who can potentially snap up these young dancers in future, while also 'taking work that wouldn’t normally be seen, especially on the mid-scale, and offering that up to regional audiences.'

Then there’s the prospect of touring: the dancers will pack their vitamins and a few home comforts and set off on the road. 'I’m so excited' says Pressac. 'We’ve been rehearsing for so long – now we’re ready to get on stage and show what we’ve been working on.' In Belfast, Rambert2 will present its triple bill which includes two works that launched the international careers of their choreographers: E2 7SD, a duet by Sydney Dance Company artistic director and former Rambert dancer Rafael Bonachela, and Killer Pig by Israeli dance star Sharon Eyal; a group work showcasing her intense and distinctive movement style.

The ensemble will also perform Grey Matter, a new dance work by Rambert’s Guest Artistic Director, Benoit Swan Pouffer, with original music by electronic and dancehall artist GAIKA and fashion duo Cottweiler. Pouffer describes it as 'a very personal piece'. 'I’m working on fading memories and how someone can have this issue and deal with it,' he says. 'It’s about the community reacts to this issue. It’s also about how you can conserve and remember.'

For Kerrigan, 'touring is an amazing opportunity to inspire the whole country and a younger generation of dancers. We’ll be going to the north-east, where I’m from, and I want to get that message out, especially for young boys, that dance is something you can get into. As a boy, I was inspired by Miguel (Altunaga) – now I get a joy out of inspiring the next generation.' For this first generation of Rambert2 performers, forging a new path in UK dance, the adventure has only just begun.

Rambert2 Mixed Bill will be at The MAC, Belfast on February 22/23, with performances at 7.30pm each night. Tickets are priced £20-25, or £5 for members at The MAC aged 16-24. To book visit https://themaclive.com/event/rambert2-mixed-bill.