Though choreographers today seldom base their work on current or past
events, Arthur Pita’s imagination has gravitated towards a bitter slice
of social history that may have particular resonance in these difficult
economic times. The World’s Greatest Show thrusts 11 professional
dancers and 30 volunteers into a feverish dance-theatre piece, packed
with dancing, singing and occasional dialogue, that eerily evokes the
grueling dance competitions of the 1930s.

The World’s Greatest Show

Organized
throughout America as entertainment for some and a source of food,
lodging and potential prize cash for others, these competitions sprang
from the pervasive hardships of the Depression. Crowded initially,
Pita’s endurance contest quickly drains the hopeful participants of
energy, and the ballroom empties quickly. Eight couples remain, then
four couples, compelled by desperation to show off, to race, to lie,
even to marry. Eventually exhaustion defeats them all, as inevitably as
the world outside has defeated them.

Absorbed, sympathetic and
horrified by the finely drawn characters and their ferocious
determination, the 2014 audience and the 1935 audience gradually became
indistinguishable. Touched by the suffering and indomitible spirit of
history’s competitive dancers, Pita has vividly restored them to life.

Rambert Dance Company
is exploring history in a different way by reviving the
format of Merce Cunningham’s site-specific Events. For fifty years,
Cunningham created Events by choosing a unique combination of excerpts
from his repertory for each performance and its location. Rambert has
followed his lead, selecting the excerpts from the ten Cunningham pieces
it has staged previously.

Rambert Event lets the audience move between two studios to watch the action unfold. Picture: Tony Nandi

Moving at will between two studios in
the company’s new home on the South Bank, each viewer concocts his own
Event, sampling Cunningham’s astounding range of invention and Rambert’s
alertness to its challenges. As long as performers are as dedicated and
well coached as these, Cunningham’s magnificent repertory will endure
for years to come.

Find out more

The World’s Greatest Show, July 11 and 12,
Corn Exchange, Ipswich, www.danceeast.co.uk and July 27, Royal Opera
House
, www.roh.org.uk

Rambert Event, 5 and 12 July, www.rambert.org.uk/event

Ballet to see this summer

In
Living Memory, James Streeter’s response to texts about World War I for
English National Ballet as part of the Latitude Festival, 20 July,
Sadler’s Wells. www.sadlerswells.com

Another ambitius
combination of professionals and volunteers, Rosemary Lee’s Under the
Vaulted Sky involves more than 100 participants in an outdoor promenade
performance as part of IF: Milton Keynes International Festival 2014.
18-20 July, www.ifmiltonkeynes.org.

* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter

* Subscribe to Country Life magazine and save