Marie Rambert was an incredible force of nature, leaving a strong legacy and a thousand memories of her influence on the dance world. The origins of her success with Rambert Dance Company play a large role in the later development of the company through the implementation of a clear ethos and three defined aims, which stemmed from her own early influences, such as Isadora Duncan and Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. We must understand Marie’s personal background and journey into dance in order to identify the key features of the company she built from the ground up. To read more about Marie’s background, influences, and the early origins of the company please click here.
As a teacher, Marie Rambert’s biggest talent was her ability to spot her students’ particular talents and nurture them. She became known as someone whose students were not ‘cookie-cutters’ but unique individuals. This became apparent in 1926, the year she created the The Rambert Dance Troupe with a small group of her students for a performance. Whilst choreographing The Tragedy of Fashion it became clear to her that Frederick Ashton had a gift for choreography and so she allowed him to take over, eventually crediting it as a collaboration between them both. Frederick Ashton became an icon as a British ballet choreographer. This talent of hers was something so unique that it became part of the aims of 1966, which was to put on choreographic workshops to allow their own dancers to thrive. Norman Morrice, who was artistic director from 1966-1974 and John Chesworth, from 1974-1980, both played a big role in the nurturing of a more modern icon in British choreography – Christopher Bruce. Bruce began his choreographic career being encouraged by Morrice and his choreographic workshops, where he created a number of small pieces. However, his first full-length work was the product of Chesworths support and encouragement. Cruel Garden premiered in 1977, a work which embodied the modern developments of Rambert through the extensively detailed Spanish-inspired set and costumes and darker political themes as he explored the suspicious death of Frederico Lorca, who spoke out against fascism/dictatorship. Through nurturing their own dancers, Morrice and Chesworth were able to develop the company members’ own skills and create new, interesting works for the company to perform. Christopher Bruce became the most successful Rambert Dance Company member, who contributed numerous iconic works to British Dance, increasing the reputation of the company.
A key moment in Marie’s life was when she was hired to help Diaghlev’s and Nijinsky’s dancers of Ballet Russes to understand the complex rhythms of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1912-13. Marie had limited experiences and interest in ballet at this time, but her Eurythmics training meant she could work with the ballerinas musicality. The dance company’s innovative use of collaboration with the most successful composers, artists and designers, such as Nijinsky and Stravinsky, sparked her desire to create her own company. Collaboration became a key characteristic of her company which can be evidenced across a number of artistic directors between 1966-2002. Robert North collaborated with Andrew Storer for Lonely Town, Lonely Street (LTLS) (1981), a successful set designer for the arts. His design transformed the whole stage into a rundown urban street, with hints to New York City in the design of the cramped building blocks, complete with metal staircases, a distinct path and street lamps. There was a parked car upstage left, behind a row of shop windows, complete with bright LED signs and usable doors. The props complemented the scene, with street bins and overflowing rubbish being scattered on the edges of the stage. By collaborating with a successful stage designer, Robert North was able to communicate modern, relatable themes of unfriendly people, being lost in a city, drug use and heartbreak in an immersive way. This meant that the audiences could fully understand the context of the characters and feel attached to the emotive narrative. Overall, this developed the company through offering both relatable and entertaining works in order to increase audience enjoyment and diversity.
Furthermore, her time at Ballet Russes also placed Marie in close proximity with professional ballet, sparking a new interest. Marie Rambert was always drawn to dance, but as a child she could never focus on the discipline of ballet classes, instead favouring gymnastics and free movement classes. As a young adult, Marie watched a performance by Isadora Duncan which became a great inspiration for her later, but the origins of her company were set in Cechetti ballet technique she had trained in after she came to London. Years of competing with other companies and struggling during and after WW2 meant that her company spent its first 40 years performing ballet classics, such as Giselle and La Sylphide, which her post-war audiences came to demand. Finances and management issues meant that the works became stale, meaning her company was no longer embodying Maries experimental and rebellious roots. In 1966, she and Norman Morrice reorganised the whole company into a smaller, modern dance group who were versatile and experimental, and her love for Isadora Duncan’s freer style inspired this eventual change. One of the first works as a reformed company was Pierrot Lunaire by Glen Tetley, an American choreographer who was known for seamlessly blending ballet and modern dance, such as Graham technique which was becoming a key factor in the developments of American and European dance. Graham technique was much more expressive, using contractions and spirals of the torso to create angular shapes. Pierrot showcases this blend in the opening scene, where he slides his right foot out into a traditional arabesque but then contracts his torso to harshly bring his back leg into a parallel pirouette position with the torso curved over, before extending the torso up as he performs a high fan kick in turn-out once more. Tetley also experimented with acrobatic movements as the main dancer, Christopher Bruce, tumbles down the scaffolding, holding himself upside down with a spiralled torso, and forwards rolling off the bar onto the floor. The blend of styles allowed the company to showcase themselves as a new, modern company, developing the dancers’ own skills and versatility as well as peaking the interest of newer, modern audiences.
Overall, Marie Rambert’s personal experiences and interests in movement led to her setting a clear vision and expectations for later artistic directors to follow. This encouraged the continued development of the company from 1966-2002.