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Behind the scenes with Rambert2

Sama. Chen Peng, Océane Robin Torrent, Prince Lyons of Rambert2. © Stephen Wright

A glass-cum-concrete cuboid of double-height interiors and wooden accents, the home of Rambert and its youth ensemble, Rambert2, is hardly out of place amongst its materially similar neighbours (the National Theatre, for one) in London’s SE1. The building, we are told, was purpose-built; its architects Allies and Morrison’s commitment to ‘form follows function’ is self-evident upon entering, and a reflection of the distinctly contemporary values of the dance company. Rambert2, following in the footsteps of its parent, embraces these, and more. Launched in 2018, their audiences tend to be just like them - students, with a local emphasis. This year’s cohort numbers twelve in all, and each dancer, either homegrown or offshore, is handpicked in a series of fast-paced auditions.

Rehearsal director Matthew Rich greets us, all pizzazz - his outfit du jour is head-to-toe rainbow Adidas, teamed with a sleek, shaven ponytail. Like his protégés, he is young, and matches their vitality with ease. He launches into enthusiastic gesticulation to convey the “energetic intention” he desires from his dancers, to which they respond determinedly. It is a quick interaction in the span of the rehearsal, but the dynamic at play is endearing in its offbeat (and entirely mutual) respect.

In thirty minutes, an exclusive excerpt of Andrea Miller’s Sama unfolds. The title of the work is a blend of Ancient Greek and Slovenian, and its collective meaning hints at a multifaceted self-exploration. Vladimir Zaldwich and Frédéric Despierre’s abrasive sound swaggers into the airy space, an awakening as rude as it is mesmerising. Our teacups rattle. Minouche van de Ven takes centre-stage in this apocalyptic celebration of the body’s capabilities to express and transcend. She is the chest-slapping blonde magma, and the other dancers, the stomping crater. They suddenly disperse as if flung by the unknown forces of this ritualistic scene, and at once descend into unified catharsis. To watch them is not unlike watching a natural hazard, in all of its beauty and chaos. They repeat this charged sequence, and they are to give it their all each time - Pompeii’s tomorrow was not promised, and neither is theirs, in the eyes of Rich.

Our interviewees wear their post-rehearsal perspiration with a sort of sheepish ease, with Prince Lyons flashing an all-American grin as we take our seats opposite them. Lyons is a self-proclaimed Chicagoan, having spent his formative years in the city of deep-dish pizza, while van de Ven is Dutch through and through. Both have had unusually late starts to the world of dance - Lyons at 15, van de Ven at 14 - but have since more than made up for this seeming handicap. They wildly differ in their approaches to a new work, with van de Ven preferring complete novelty, while Lyons admits that he is inclined to borderline obsessive research of the choreographer and their past works, to which he attributes his “analytical” nature.

Sama. Minouche Van de Ven and dancers of Rambert2.© Stephen Wright

Lyons expresses mock horror when talking of his new transatlantic reality. He is to walk to work, not drive, as he once did in Chicago. The dancer lives in Oval, a good ten minutes away from the studio - it’s easy to see where he’s coming from. Van de Ven, perhaps a little more at ease with the trials and tribulations of arcane European rituals, expresses her admiration for the more far-flung of her fellow dancers for their ability to pick up the language, some of whom were initially able to speak little more than a passive tourist might. They are both appreciative of Rambert2’s scattered origins (Finland, China and the US, to name a few), as this has exposed them to a hodgepodge of dance styles, which, Lyons declares, is “refreshing”. Rehearsals are another matter, but both seem weary at the thought of any more. Lyons eagerly comes up with an analogy: “I’m the Sim, but I can still point at the decoration I’d like for my house, you know?” Still, a performance feels unlike anything else, and Lyons relishes the fact that there are “a lot of eyes on you”. Many (namely myself) would cower at this prospect, but Lyons and van de Ven, true to form, flourish in such an environment.

Prince Lyons. © Camilla Greenwell

Minouche Van de Ven. © Camilla Greenwell

On social life, the two readily quip that they have none, at least, outside of Rambert2. Their craft is what brought them here, and neither has lost sight of that. Alongside their challenging six-day working week, they have the option of studying towards an MA in Professional Dance Performance, awarded by Rambert School. Lyons eagerly brings up Brixton and Camden’s Blues Kitchen, both places that feel just a little more like home. They’ll explore more soon enough - their first performance takes place in Southampton, followed by Manchester, Birmingham…“very British places”, Lyons remarks.

This article was originally published in Strand Magazine's November 2019 print issue.

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