Energy, sophistication, execution: Scottish Ballet at the Edinburgh Festival

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
August 18, 2016

Róisín O’Brien

Scottish Ballet were a remarkable force on their opening night at the Edinburgh International Festival. Confidently navigating their way through two very different choreographies, the company show that they are adept at performing in pieces that play with and challenge the norms of classical ballet.

Angelin Preljoçaj’s heavy MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps) opens the evening. Based on The Last Supper, it’s an iconoclastic exploration of the male body, its resultant tenderness and strength, its rituals and compulsions. Bodies are washed; bodies are curled up under tables, or thrown upon them; bodies sing, get abused, or taped up.

MC 14/22 is in many ways an arrogant work. There is no easy rise and fall in the pace, no logical narrative, no grand payoff. Preljoçaj sketches his scenes and lets them settle, congeal and spread out. It is uncompromising. The lighting and the sound follow this same logic: jarring red and yellow neon lights illuminate grotesque, violent and erotic tableaux while the soundtrack whispers, then judders, then thuds, for drawn out, painful amounts of time. Clashed against costumes that hark back to a classical era, MC 14/22 is cockily historical and ahistorical, brutally specific and flamboyantly blasé. It poses an angry, narcissistic challenge to its viewers.

If classical ballet training creates an ability to reach specifically defined positions, with clarity of line and direction, Preljoçaj builds on such skills in his choreographed throws, falls and slides. The dancers never look like they are out of their comfort zone. Preljoçaj’s evident knowledge of the form has allows him to expand the dancers’ repertoire, not ask them to do something completely alien. For instance, in contemporary dance ,the moment of falling is drawn out and suspended. Here, when the ballet dancers fall, there is an emphasis is on stacked, beautiful architectural forms toppling.

Preljoçaj’s work isn’t for everyone, but the energy, sophistication of execution and the commitment of the Scottish Ballet dancers is impossible to deny.

Scottish Ballet in Crystal Pite’s EmergencePhoto Andy Ross
Scottish Ballet in Crystal Pite’s Emergence
Photo Andy Ross

Crystal Pite’s Emergence at first appears slightly superficial after the gruelling opening number. However, Pite’s sharp and shuddering movement vocabulary provides another opportunity for the dancers to showcase their versatility.  The unison sections are particularly captivating: they move as one sinewy whole, ricocheting off each other when they break, before curving and moulding into each other during more flowing sequences.

Pite explores ideas of systems and interactions. Emergence is broadly segregated across the genders, with one or two pas de deux interspersed throughout. The men’s movement is hunched, convulsing; the women float eerily on their pointes, overseers of the hive.

The scenery and costumes are visually stunning. A black hole that expands outwards into black spokes forms the backdrop, allowing dancers to enter and exit. The costumes are a glossy, glamorous black. Alongside a rasping, droning soundscape, the female dancers also create cascading whispers, which resound ominously against their male counterparts.

Scottish Ballet this evening show a bravery and abundance of talent in how they tackle such exciting ballet choreography.  Both works were created outwith Scottish Ballet and were picked up by the company; it’s exciting to think what will come out of specially commissioned works on these dynamic dancers. A phenomenal performance.

Scottish Ballet are at the Festival Theatre to August 20.