Rooms is an accomplished piece of contemporary dance theatre, stylish and wittily presented. The premise is straightforward, as is the set, consisting of three rooms side by side, with interconnecting doors. But with clever lighting, costume and set changes, not to mention atmospheric goings-on out of the windows, you’d think the 17 dancers were a multitude, inhabiting a whole bustling block of flats.
This fresh take on dance contains relatively little “dance” as such, though of course it is fantastic when it appears. There is more of what I’d describe as choreographed movement – it might just be a walk but with a dancer’s skill a lot of character is expressed in a simple movement. We get more speech than usual too, a nod to the intimacy of a camera up close compared to an auditorium, and more fine-movement, whether it’s a dumb-show or an expression. We also saw scenarios I’ve never met in dance before, which really spoke of a new reality. Like the scene with a chain-clad horticulturalist tending his verdant flat-ful of burgeoning cannabis plants. I won’t spoil the surprise, but the police were very coordinated.
Underlying the performance is an exploration of rooms, from the physical to the metaphorical. Are the walls there to keep people in, or out? And as the Metro-insular professor pontificates, is it all about finding your tribe? While we are corporeally confined to our individual spaces, we can still roam around the cybersphere, watching the view from other people’s windows or Zooming with new buddies and fellow enthusiasts. Or maybe it’s about compartmentalising in our minds, and those rooms merely represent our different selves.
Like anyone who’s gone to a party as a tee-totaller, and found out just how much of a hangover is down to excitement and late nights rather than alcohol, so in these times we can dissect showgoing. The nervous anticipation of meeting up with friends and finding your seat is replaced by logging on, finding charging cables, navigating unfamiliar websites. I watched a matinee, but nevertheless it was hard to remind myself this was a live performance without the immediacy of the dancers and the combined reaction of the audience. I can only imagine what it must be like to perform in these sterile surroundings, and we didn’t get a curtain call.
Perhaps with an audience giggling beside me it would have been different, but several scenarios seemed to me woefully out of kilter: in one, without warning, a man hits his wife violently with a frying pan. Now, I don’t think I’m a snowflake, but this brought me up short. Dance has a terrific capacity for conveying emotion, both light and dark, but context matters. In preceding scenes we met comedy violence, like the long-suffering podcast producer trampled by Norwegian black metal fans. To jump from that to some of society's nastiest issues, resonating horribly with recent events and statistics, felt like hollow mockery.
Rambert are a terrific company, and if there’s a virtue in the pandemic it’s that we get to see more from such world-class institutions, direct to our living room. There’s a huge opportunity here, to make dance accessible. (And at £15 for a household ticket it’s more affordable than ever.) But diversity is about more than the dancers’ skin colour – it’s about encompassing different points of view. We started with a brave new world. We finished with the message that this piece was made to entertain only those of us lucky enough to be unscarred by the events of the last year – the protests, the rise in domestic violence, the mass shootings, maltreatment of babies, loneliness and loss. Perhaps I’ve lost my sense of humour. Perhaps I needed to eavesdrop in the theatre lobby afterwards and see if it was only me who found the content warning inadequate.
I’d still recommend you see this performance. It has many different snippets of life, and many of those are fun, from the classical musicians vs the Millwall fan, through the Varsity Puzzle contest, to the extramarital affairs, it’ll definitely transport you to some other places, and some of them are very funny.