Review – Scottish Ballet Autumn Tour

October 12, 2012 | By More

★★★★☆

Festival Theatre: 11-13 October 2012
Review by Thom Dibdin

Scottish Ballet has done itself proud with this splendid trio of ballets for its Autumn tour, which is at the Festival theatre until Saturday.

There’s a combination of styles in a fascinating mix of old and new. And while there is no danger of anyone finding a narrative strand to follow in the three works, there are some sublime ballet moments, particularly in the finale – a ballet-ballroom hybrid, no-less.

Christopher Harrison and Claire Robertson in Hans Van Manen’s 5 Tangos. Pic: Andy Ross.

The evening sets off at considerable pace with Run For It, choreographer Martin Lawrance’s piece he created as Scottish Ballet’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad.

When it opened Dance GB – three works by the UK’s three national ballet companies – back in June, there was bravado about Scottish Ballet’s ownership of the piece. At that point no one had any idea of the successes that the London Olympics would have, both as a sporting event and in its opening ceremony. But that ownership no has a real authority to it.

Dancing to the frenetic athleticism of the opening movement of John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony, they are youthful fountains of energy. As their adrenaline bursts across the stage, you feel that they are lights which could never go out. Always performing in pairs, they pause at moments of extreme extension poised, as if they were athletes caught on camera at the whip-point of their event.

A Doric column is elegantly poised to the stage rear in Martin Boyce’s set, and a maze of white translucent Sixties-styled plastic runs across the ceiling. Yumiko Takeshima’s costume design has the dancers working in lycra-tight outfits of varying shades of deep blue, cut high at the leg and even higher at the throat.

Owen Thorne, Eve Mutso and the Company in Martin Lawrance’s Run For It. Pic: Andrew Ross

Run For It speaks of winning and losing, of taking part and competition, but it is an inclusive piece, which uses the air and allows its dancers to take flight.

Movement is even more prominent in the second work of the evening, William Forsythe’s 1998 ballet: Workwithinwork. It’s not new to Scottish Ballet, as the company first performed during its 40th anniversary season in 2009.

Now it comes alive again in a twisting, sinuous telling. Forsythe’s movements, or more often fragments of movement, are set to a series of short educational violin duets written by Luciano Berio. The whole teeters on the edge of comprehension, as if the motifs and intertwining moments were spectres of ballets past and yet-to-come. A feeling that is heightened by the crepuscular lighting.

The overall effect is wonderfully mesmerising, the sort of piece which leaves you wondering at the skill of all concerned and how on earth it could all be brought out into the light of day, not just once, but looking the same every night. Surely it is all too random to actually be choreographed.

At times the motifs last for as long as it takes for a dancer to move from one side of the stage to the other. At others, the violins seems to battle, forcing the dancers into movements which seem at odds with each other.

The Company in Hans Van Manen’s 5 Tangos. Pic Andy Ross

If Workwithinwork is robust and beautiful to watch, the final ballet of the evening really sees it take off. Scottish Ballet have brought Hans van Manen’s 1977 ballet, 5 Tangos into their repertoire – and in so doing have found themselves a wonderful crowd pleaser of a popular ballet. The sort of work which will get audiences on their feet – and hopefully bring new audiences in, too.

While the men dance in plain black – cut to very good advantage it must be said – the women have, under their own plan black dresses, flouncing bright hibiscus-red underskirts, with the same bold red emblazoned across their bodices. It’s not raunchy, far from it, but it is a thoroughly sexy and provocative look.

The triumph, though, is the use of Tango technique, the stiffly formal erectness of the upper body, while adding the movement of ballet from the waist down.

The piece is performed to five tangos written by Astor Piazzolla. Music which brings the mournful and fiery nature of tango and adds a heft dollop of mid-twentieth century jazz. That jazz influence is acknowledged in a backdrop – of interconnected graphic figures and letters – which could have been stolen from the sleeve of a Blue Note record.

It’s rather nicey, nicey to start off with – the Strictly judges would be pleased, no doubt. But it soon gets deeper and darker. There’s a fantastic solo piece from Christopher Harrison which epitomises that mixture with his  upper-body all ballroom formality while he cuts the leaps, twists and steps of pure ballet into the mix.

There’s a tango with two men vying for the attention of a two woman – the men at odds with each other, battling in their dance even when they are in hold together. They are seemingly oblivious to the presence of the two women – until they turn from each other to take their female partners into hold with split-second timing and incredible spatial awareness.

The pick of the whole bunch, however, is danced to a wonderfully austere melancholy tango, featuring Claire Robertson with six male dancers. This is electric, heart-rending stuff, of the kind which makes you forget to breath it is so unsettling and sexy in its emotion.

This is an evening which has a couple of slips that you might not expect – particularly in that frantic opening sequence of the opening ballet, but over all, is a triple bill to savour.

Run ends Saturday 13
Daily, 7.30pm
Running time: 2 hours 15 mins.

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
11-13 October 2012
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Eden Court, Inverness
16 & 17 October 2012
Box Office 01463 234 234*
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His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
19 & 20 October 2012
Box Office 01224 641122*
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ENDS

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