Scottish Ballet Spring at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh is a two programme (Dextera and Elite Syncopations ) celebration of many things – not least of them the fact that Scottish Ballet is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. Founded in 1969 by Peter Darrell to be an innovative National Dance Company, this programme featuring a new work, Dextera by Scottish Ballet’s choreographer in Residence, Sophie Laplane and a re-visit to Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, clearly shows that 50 years on Scottish Ballet as a company are still holding true to their founder’s principal vision.
Opening our 50th year celebrations, Sophie Laplane’s “Dextera”, a large scale work commissioned by Christopher Hampson which gives Sophie the opportunity to not only work with around 20 dancers, but also the Scottish Ballet Orchestra performing live her chosen Mozart music to which this work is choreographed.
Dextera has many elements to its construction, but two very obvious ones are the coloured gloves and dancers looking like mannequins. Here, the relationship between the glove wearer and the control over their very passive dolls is at times disturbing as the glove wearers contort them into often bizarre poses. As the wearer of the gloves changes gender, so does control, and the dominant relationship between male and female is constantly examined with often comedic results. Of course, male/female relationships are not the only combinations that come under the choreographic eye of Sophie Laplane in the dance movements that make up Dextera.
Gloves are of course also symbolic here and they not only draw your eye to the dancers’ hands with some very skilful and at times amusing choreography, but they can also be interpreted as the very creativity that we are all capable of bringing to life in many different ways with the use of our hands.
With Dextera, Sophie Laplane is looking both forward to new choreography and also backwards to classic forms of earlier days, and the two, both carefully set to the always wonderful music of Mozart, make interesting contrasts. For me though, one of the highlights of this work was the duet between Sophie Martin and Thomas Edwards in “Mea Culpa”.
Our main event of “Spring” is of course Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s “Elite Syncopations”, and at first glance, the difference between the two works is obvious as we are thrust immediately into a dance-hall world of vibrant colour and the dances of the 1920s set to the music of Ragtime favourites from Scott Joplin. Here the orchestra are also moved on-stage with our dancers to be the musical heart of our dance-hall.
Elite Syncopations is a very visual production and much of this look is down to the wonderful costumes by designer Ian Spurling who has created body skimming costumes with each one hand-painted and patterned with arrows, or stars and stripes, buttons or bows. The resulting visual is often humorous but always allowing dancers’ full expression in line and form to Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s wonderful choreography.
Where do you start with a work like this as so many people will have their own favourites? Is it perhaps “Calliope Rag” performed by Bethany Kingsley-Garner or the always superb combination of Sophie Martin and Christopher Harrison on “Concert Waltz-Bethena, or Sophie Martin’s solo performance in “Stop-Time-Rag”? Perhaps the gentle comedy routine of Constance Devernay and Andrew Peasgood in “The Golden Hours” or the more outright comedy of Marge Hendrick and Bruno Micchiardi together performing “The Alaskan Rag” is more to your tastes. In the end, does it matter where your favourite performances are in “Elite Syncopations” as it is simply a wonderful piece of work full of life and joy, and everyone on stage so obviously loves performing it as much as the audience enjoy watching the dance and listening to the music. We are in a 1920s dance hall here and it is always worth watching the many individual little scenarios that are playing out both at our musicians’ stage and the edges of the dance-floor. This story is full of life on the dance-floor and unseen off the floor too.
There are no weak elements in this inspired work and when Elite Syncopations was originally created in 1974, its impact on audiences must have been as new and bold as our opening work tonight. Sometimes, with the hindsight of familiarity over the years, we can too easily forget how fresh works like this truly were, and the fact that they can still remain fresh today is a tribute to their original creativity.
Review by Tom King