In a derelict rehearsal room, a fatigued director drifts into a state of woozy unconsciousness. He is rehearsing for a haunting reimagination of Calderón’s 17th century dramatic text. In a translucent state of affairs, the prince and his saviour appear from the play in blurry fragments within the director’s mind. Through creative abstractions, he develops supernatural powers and is granted blistered glimpses of otherworldly imaginings on the rehearsal room’s walls as he assumes control of his own universe: just as the prince of Calderón’s play takes command through unmediated violence in a parallel sphere of reality. As the piece ventures beyond the confines of the concrete space and away from the privilege of control, the director, too, struggles in tandem with the prince’s fear that the world could evaporate at any moment in fickle conceptualization.
It is a complicated and mysterious premise, yet serves as an atmospheric context for bold creative decisions within its staging. Kim Brandstrup’s understated choreography is as intelligent as it is unimposing; requiring little to no knowledge of the plot to be appreciated. Set to Lutoslawski’s foredboding composition, dancers drift in and out of the rehearsal room as sinewy ghosts; translucent and ethereal against the shadowy confines of the mottled room. It tells a tale of conflict: an opposition of desires that could well manifest in a variety of interpretations regardless of literary background.
Design by the Quay Brothers takes the form of mottled projections on the rehearsal room’s walls, providing flickering motifs of other life; dictated neither by reality nor temporality. It is a chilling addition that casts the piece in dreamlike, noir and spectral haze. A partially-disfigured mannequin hovers in a shadowed corner; blurring the audience’s ability to distinguish human from figure; dream from reality. The mirrored floor echoes what penetrates of Jean Kalman’s dappled lighting design; blurring the ambiguous number of students resting against the walls while their director drifts in and out of lucidness.
However, whilst the production excels through its indulgence of the mysterious, it straddles the line of confusion – oftentimes slipping into the realm of sheer bewilderment. On the one hand, one might assume that a niche understanding of the Spanish Baroque literary canon is the barrier to entry within this context; but Rambert’s interpretation is so far removed from Calderón’s work that it may well be a frame of reference within schemes of wider inspiration. Though individual elements can be appreciated, it becomes a challenge to pair ideas together. An impressive method of storytelling; but perhaps one that relies too heavily on technique than on narrative.