At the launch of Scottish Ballet’s second Digital Season, Director Christopher Hampson pays tribute to the outward thinking mentality of the company’s founder Peter Darrell. In Hampson’s words, Darrell always looked to programme new works rather than rely only on classics, and programmed in new contexts, such as for television. It is this spirit that Scottish Ballet look to uphold with their 2019 Digital Season, which will see a series of films, live streams and ‘digital experiments’ released in the coming weeks.
The evening took place in the production bay of Scottish Ballet, which is set up to be a surprisingly intimate venue (despite the large sets stacked teasingly out of sight). It opened with two short dance films: Tremble from London based-duo Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple and Frontiers from in-house filmmaker Eve McConnachie and choreographer Myles Thatcher.
Tremble is almost hammy in its aesthetics, as lurid colours pop out from the screen and plates of jelly wobble ominously when passed between dancers. The camera is instigator at this dinner party, turning guests into waiting staff. There are some surreal comic moments, and striking abstract set pieces. I’m unsure whether there is any greater meaning, but it is entertaining. The film can be seen here.
Frontiers zips through industrial Glasgow, the grubby concrete and pebbled columns providing the backdrop to dancers dressed in minimalist clothing. Cutting between individuals and couples, it aims to move beyond traditional gendered roles in classical ballet. The team succeed through same-sex partnering and refusing to adhere to dated stereotypes: women powerfully command the space, men intimately embrace each other. Most of the lifting shown remains done by men, but the dynamism is impressive, and fitting of its uncompromising environment.
Zachary Eastwood-Bloom is the company’s first Digital Artist in Residence. At the launch, we saw what he describes as ‘the foundations’ of three works made with different choreographers. Each was performed live, with digital manipulations and small sculptures at the back of the space hinting at what’s to follow in the coming months.
In The Three Graces, we enter a zany, glitching world of incessant likes, (destructive?) selfies and cloying filters. Choreographer and First Artist Madeline Squire impressively communicates the feel and repercussions of this image-obsessed world image through the movement rather than gimmicks. The three dancers frantically place their faces into allocated spaces; at points their sequencing stops and they judder forward. We get caughtup in the exacting rhythm of their movement, the drop of the beat. But should we? There is something sinister about their pastel dyed headbands and desire to please.
The second two pieces take on more expansive, shifting movement. In Alexander Whitley’s duet Prometheus and Epimetheus, Jamiel Laurence and Constant Vigier meld together then pull apart, a dance of invisible connections in the space between them that results in a hypnotic display. In Soloist Nicholas Shoesmith’s The Fates, ritualistic and jagged movements appear. The dancers bestride the stage, capture the air around them and arc through bold shapes. There is something in their splayed hands and taut spines that is reminiscent of Crystal Pite.
More events will follow in the season, including a live stream from the studio as Artist in Residence Sophie Laplane works on a new piece.
Watching these shorter works up close, with introductions from Hampson and Zachary, is a welcome format. The production bay is also an intriguing setting. One for future audiences, perhaps. In these set ups, the work takes on a more lived, responsive nature. Its status as a new response to the world, rather than a production set in stone, is foregrounded. A fitting opening for a season that embraces the challenge of working with a physical art form in a rapidly advancing digital age.