Starting a rumble: the making of Rimbombo

30 June 2014 | By Behind Ballet

The Dancers Company is heading out on the road this winter, bringing a triple bill of classical works to regional audiences. The witty, boy-laden Rimbombo was made on The Dancers Company last year by Simon Dow, a former principal artist of The Australian Ballet (among other companies) and a former artistic director of West Australian Ballet and Milwaukee Ballet. He talked to us about making the ballet. 

What kind of ideas did you go into the studio with when you were making Rimbombo?
Thematically, when Danny [Danilo Radojevic, artistic director of The Dancers Company], first asked me, my first feeling was “great!” And then I walked away from the meeting and thought “oh”, because the brief was to do something with all men (I’ve since added one woman), and originally he wanted me to do something classical, and if men are going to hold the stage for something like 25 minutes, that would be very, very physical, because male dancers do so much jumping in classical ballet. I would kill them, they’d never survive it! So I thought about it and went back to Danny with some thoughts and some music. I was listening to a piece of Rossini one day and I remembered, from my childhood, Bugs Bunny. There’s a wonderful, classic Bugs Bunny cartoon that uses some Rossini music from The Barber of Seville. It was an “aha” moment, and I thought, now I know where this is going.

Artists of The Dancers Company in Rimbombo. Photography Frank Monger

Rimbombo is Italian for rumble. I thought “Well, Rossini’s Italian, let’s look at some Italian”, and the sound of that word as it comes off the tongue is quite fun. But it’s that rumble aspect, that street gang. Men, traditionally (thank goodness things are looking like they might potentially change as feminine energy finally comes out of the shadow) have this adversarial nature. You see it in the animal kingdom – they’re always butting up against each other, it’s this proving yourself, needing to be on top of the pile, the top dog. That behaviour has run throughout history: you look back at even the development of sport and war, it’s been a very male cultural development of humanity for a very long time, with the feminine aspect being very strongly there but shadowed. Now I think it’s shifting and it needs to.

I know from my classes, if you get a really good class of male students, it’s like they always want to do one more pirouette than the next one. There’s this good sense of healthy competition, “I want to be the best”, and I thought, well, if I give them something that allows them to play with that, they’re going to have fun with it, they’ll be relaxed about it and then the technique can flow more easily.

Artists of The Dancers Company in Rimbombo. Photography Frank Monger

What is it like to make works with students as opposed to professional dancers? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
It’s terrifically exciting, because they’re an open book in a way. I think a theme in my life is transformation, and I’m doing that on a personal level, but it’s also the way I work with people. I love to help someone discover their own beauty; in every human being there’s this essential beauty that’s breathtakingly amazing. For young, emerging dancers, the technique of classical ballet, which is so disciplined, so devotional in a way, can sometimes have the effect of squashing their exuberance and natural spirit, their effervescence, and one of my goals as a teacher is never to let that happen. So one of the great things about working with young people is that possibility to maybe help them rediscover that which they already knew when they were a young child. I’m always saying to people “Remember when you used to just dance in your bedroom to some crazy music?” You look at kids in the park and they’re just spinning around, they’re really free, they’re not self-conscious yet. What’s really compelling for me in watching a dancer is when they get lost in what they’re doing, and therefore you go with them because they’re so connected to what they’re doing. Young people, they have a fresh perspective, they don’t have a lot of history of working with choreographers, so it’s new … but some young people are really closed off for whatever reason, some conditioning in their life or some experience, so you have work really hard to build trust. The beautiful thing about this project is that I’m working with my students from last year, so we have already developed that openness together.

See Rimbombo, along with Paquita and Act III of Swan Lake, when The Dancers Company comes to your town! More info and booking