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Scottish Ballet

'Rubies', 'Workwithinwork', 'In Light' and 'Shadow'

by David Mead

October 1, 2009 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London

Oh joy!  An evening of dance that was bright, upbeat and sent you away truly happy with life.  What is more, there were no deep, impenetrable philosophical essays in the programme about the meaning of the works on show - always a bad sign.  It is good to be challenged, but every now and then you need something a little lighter, easy on the ear and easy on the eye.  Scottish Ballet certainly provided that on their latest visit to London.

Given that the company is celebrating its 40th anniversary, what could be a more appropriate opener than George Balanchine’s “Rubies”?  And how nice to see it danced on a stage devoid of unnecessary clutter such as pillars or ghastly giant gems dangling from above.  The whole cast looked like they were enjoying themselves.  They were appropriately light and bouncy, and pranced around the stage like red horses, although some of the more quirky movement from the corps in particular seemed occasionally muted and restrained.  While luscious, and indeed confident, Vassilissa Levtonova as the tall, odd girl out was equally missing some of the out and out crisp spikiness this ballet really needs. No such problems from Sophie Martin and Adam Blyde as the lead couple, who showed excellent wit, timing and sensitivity to one another.

For the non-William Forsythe devotee, “Workwithinwork” is one of his more accessible ballets.  Danced to Luciano Berio’s Duetti for two violins, it brings together each dancer’s classical training with a sort of conversational playfulness.  It is possible to sense the improvisation that the piece is based on, as the dancers feed off one another, the stage space and the music.  A series of fluid, often brief, duets and trios feature much twisting and winding movement using the whole body.  Occasionally it gets quite angular, the dancers looking like wooden puppets, but where the puppeteer has lost control of the strings.

Krzysztof Pastor’s “In Light and Shadow” rounded the evening off with a complete change of mood.  According to Pastor the ballet was part-inspired by a range of Baroque painters including Vermeer, Rembrandt and La Tour and the interplay of light and shadow.  That is as may be, but what comes over loud and clear is his rich response to Bach’s music.

Pastor, currently Resident Choreographer at Dutch National Ballet, opens with an expressive and beautiful duet to the aria from Goldberg Variations.  On a dimly lit stage, with Tatyana van Walsum’s striking set of dark grey slabs leaning downstage towards the audience, Sophie Martin and Adam Blyde showed a very different, but no less effective, relationship to that in “Rubies”.  Here, everything was subtle, understated and danced with fine control.  It was quite bewitching.

The end of the duet is signalled by the arrival of the other 16 dancers, all individually dressed in vibrant colours.  As light bursts through cracks in the set, the work soon opens out into a series of solos, duets and ensemble work to Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite.  In the latter the dancers move around the stage in constantly changing patterns.  The dances echo Baroque courtliness but this is a ballet far from being stuck in the past.  The movement is light, quick, contemporary and full of energy.  There are lots of swivelling, wiggling hips and fluttering arms among the classical steps.  The dancers flirt and play with each other as they combine the precision of classical ballet with the individualism and expression of American modern dance.  Best of all were Tomomi Sato in the Air, and Martina Forioso and Luke Ahmet in the Gavotte.  “In Light and Shadow” is one of those wonderful feel-good pieces that not only looks fun to dance, it is appealing and fun to watch. 

The whole evening sparkled.  The company has improved immeasurably under Ashley Page and, on this showing, continues to do so.  I can understand why Scotland would want to keep these dancers all to itself, but it really would be nice to see them come south more often, and to places other than London.

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