Sleepy-sickness and the drug-induced awakenings from it, as observed in the book by Oliver Sacks, are at the heart of Awakenings, the new ballet for the Rambert Dance Company’s autumn tour. There was indeed a Hollywood film on this subject but the book has been the principal source.
A scene from Awakenings at the Lowry, Salford Photo: Martin Evening
Created by the very busy Aletta Collins, Awakenings was commissioned and energised by Daniel Katz, a Rambert sponsor. He and Tobias Picker, the American composer for the piece, were introduced to each other by Sacks. Both Katz and Picker had grown up with Tourette’s syndrome, its physical tics being similar to those of the Awakenings patients. Music gave the patients a tempo and some control.
Awakenings is an essay in damaged cognition. Eight patients each emerge from tragic stillness to a consciousness characterised by awkward tics and wild or overly slow movements. The awakenings have a suddenness which is not shocking but is chilling. The patients explore themselves and their own restricted space. Thoughts and feelings stir for the first time in decades, there are mutually supportive duets - and then the music stops and they stop. The triumph of the choreography is in showing how the patients run out of space. Not the way we see space, but their fundamentally different perception of it.
Picker’s score has soulful emotion mixed with strident, eerie phrases. Picker, incidentally, was once an accompanist for Martha Graham.
The premiere opened with Christopher Bruce’s constantly larky Hush and the abridged version of the primeval Cunningham piece Rain Forest. Hush is an ideal mixed programme opener.