Scottish Dance Theatre in Ritualia and The Circle

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
May 25, 2019

Róisín O’Brien

Scottish Dance Theatre are always a good night out. Consistently strong, and not scared of working with mis-en-scène, their punchy attack combined with international choreographers is never less than impressive to watch.

Their latest double bill opens with Colette Sadler’s Ritualia, a modern re-imagining of Bronislava Nijinska’s 1920s ballet Les Noces (The Wedding). Stravinsky’s modernist score is still gratingly bold, pitching the performers into a world of high-strung vocals and ominous rhythms.

There is superb costume design from Rike Zöllner, with the dancers resplendent in black knitted wool and painted with garish red lipstick. Not only referencing but exaggerating the hair motif in the original ballet, which symbolised a woman’s marital status, oversized and flamboyant wigs soon appear, precariously placed on the dancers’ heads.

Scottish Dance Theatre in The Circle by Emanuel GatPhoto Brian Hartley 1
Scottish Dance Theatre in The Circle
by Emanuel Gat
Photo Brian Hartley

Combined with Sadler’s choreography, Ritualia has a surreal but not incomprehensible feel. The dancers splay their legs, move into intimate positions before crawling out of the space. Their arms click, re-align into gesticulations. They flail across the stage, on the tips of their toes, back sinewy and almost drunk.

Samuli Laine’s lighting cuts from cold pink and blues to garish red; there is an odd interlude of thumping rave music. A world of ritualised courtship that is delightfully odd, wonderfully weird and danced impeccably.

The Circle from Emanuel Gat gets its world premiere, and is the more muted work of the evening. Its premise is vague, a celebration of both the individuals in the company and their shifting group dynamic. Opening with the dancers in a tight circle, facing inwards, they explode out in a mad frenzy. There is almost too much potential to live up to in those first few moments.

The soundtrack for The Circle is a recording of a live gig, featuring tracks from Ultravisitor, originally a studio album, by Squarepusher. It’s an interesting statement of intent, exploring ideas of liveness and improvisation, and there is some correlation with the movement. The dancers initially start circling around each other, almost aggressively keeping an eye on each other. They then morph into constantly regrouping constellations, catching the movement idiosyncrasies of each other.

The dancers are once again commendably adept, and the piece makes a bit more sense when you zoom in on one dancer rather than trying to watch the whole. Thomas Bradley’s costumes add to the madness, with their excessive fabric lumps laced around the dancers in no rational manner. Overall, The Circle exists mostly as an interesting exercise rather than an overly prescriptive created work.

Ritualia will be coming to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the end of August, as part of the British Council Edinburgh Showcase for 2019 – a great chance to catch this stellar company in amongst the bustle of the fringe.