Dance review: Dance Odysseys
It may not always have been slick, but the Dance Odysseys at the Festival Theatre have provided a fascinating opportunity for an up-close look at choreography both old and new says Kelly Apter
The Festival Theatre opened its doors, and in they poured. Whether it was a film screening of historical dance, giving perspective to more modern creations, a talk offering insight to the work you have just seen or a live performance, Dance Odysseys has proved there is a capacious appetite for movement up close.
At a four-day event, dedicated to ballet and contemporary dance in all its boundary-crossing glory, it seems only right to start with the future: dance-makers who are building up their reputation, honing their craft and making their mark. New Voices (* * * *) gave us a brief but tantalising glimpse at the work of James Cousins, Helen Pickett, Henri Oguike, Martin Lawrance and Kristen McNally, performed largely by dancers from Scottish Ballet, with Scottish Dance Theatre delivering the Oguike work.
All five ticked the boxes marked engaging, entertaining and accessible. Cousins took four ballerinas, stripped them of pointe shoes, buns and pretty costumes, and gave them Still it Remains, an earthy work of real emotional intensity. I couldn’t take my eyes off Helen Pickett’s The Room for a second, lest I miss the ever-changing dynamics of three tortured souls shut in a room by their keeper. Inspired by Jean-Paul Satre’s play No Exit, it confirmed that hell is indeed other people. Oguike also played with interpersonal relationships with In This Storm, as two men and one woman negotiated their shared space.
Martin Lawrance more than proved his mettle at Scottish Ballet with last year’s Run For It, but his new piece, Dark Full Ride made me fall in love with his work all over again. Anyone who can dress ballet dancers in T-shirts with their faces printed on and jeans, make them dance to a fairly challenging percussion-heavy soundtrack – and still make their movement look exquisite – gets my vote. Finally, on our way out of the theatre, we were asked to pause on the stairs for Kristen McNally’s Foibles – a fun yet thoughtful chance to get close to dancers who can make walking across a room look special.
From the emerging to the established, Contemporary Classics (* * * *) featured the work of three choreographic giants: Christopher Bruce, Twyla Tharp and Jiří Kylián. Bruce’s Shift gave us the unusual sight of ballet dancers, all straight legs and pointed toes, playing factory workers in checked shirts and jeans, with head scarves for the women. Fast-paced, with lots of tricky flicks and turns, Bruce certainly made the six dancers work for their pay cheque.
Tharp’s The Fugue challenged just how much music dictates our emotional response to movement, by removing it completely. With microphones taped to the floor, the only sound came from the three dancers’ shoes, rendering this precisely layered, and perfectly accessible, movement just that little bit more challenging.
Kylián is so synonymous with the Nederlands Dans Theater that any company taking his work on has got something to prove. But Brenda Lee Grech and Victor Zarallo looked as if they’d just ridden out of the NDT stable, making his passionate and intimate duet 14’20” very much their own. As a bonus, the piece was preceded by a film of Kylián’s partner and muse, Sabine Kupferberg, dancing his Silent Cries. A perfect addition after the wonderful Kylián documentary, Forgotten Memories, screened earlier that day.
Literally pulled together at the last minute, to replace the cancelled Édouard Lock premiere, Sea of Troubles and Silhouette was a double-bill of real contrast. Created by Kenneth MacMillan in 1988 and inspired by Hamlet, Sea of Troubles is the kind of work that grows on you as it goes along. A series of short vignettes, depicting the inner turmoil of Shakespeare’s key players, the piece crawls under your skin rather than washing over you easily.
Silhouette, on the other hand, is instantly digestible and a real joy to behold. It also gives a clear indication why Scottish Ballet chose Christopher Hampson, who choreographed Silhouette, as its new artistic director. A sumptuous piece for 14 dancers, featuring gorgeous pointe work, symmetry and crowd-pleasing high legs and leaps, it also had a slightly off-kilter edge. The tutus sum it up best – stiff and beautiful, as you would expect from classical ballet – yet with a disco sheen, making a perfect blend of traditional and modern.
Duets (* * * ) offered the same blend, with two pieces from Scottish Ballet’s founder, Peter Darrell, sitting alongside recent works by James Cousins, Helen Pickett, and Scottish Ballet’s Sophie Laplane. A little unpolished in places, and with some works (Darrell’s excerpt from Cheri in particular) so short you had no time to invest in the relationship, this part of the programme felt less successful than those around it. But the intensity of Cousin’s Jealousy, performed (almost) to perfection by Sophie Martin and Victor Zarallo, will stay with me forever.
Glen Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire (* * * *) is not an easy work, for those dancing or watching it, but the sheer theatricality carries you through. Created in 1962, at a time when ballet and contemporary made strange bedfellows, today’s viewers are much more accepting – but giving us the opportunity to trace that timeline back was invaluable. Set around a large scaffolding tower, the piece demanded athleticism from the three performers – but also a more internal strength and sense of characterisation – all of which they delivered.
With so much work to rehearse, in a relatively short space of time, and with many of the dancers performing in more than one show, not everything (or more specifically everyone) was going to look as slick as a usual Scottish Ballet outing. But if a tiny handful of wobbly legs is the price you pay for a long weekend of such diversity – and the opportunity to observe these dancers at close quarters – then it was well worth it.
As a dance writer, I never tire of seeing dancers perform right in front of me (in rehearsal) and hearing choreographers and artistic directors explain their motivation and intent during interviews. So hats off to Hampson, and everybody else who fed into this remarkable weekend, for giving many more people that same privilege.
Dance Odysseys continues at the Festival Theatre until tonight
Originally published in The Scotsman