Scottish Ballet are performing Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh (Tue 10 to Sat 14 April) as part of a tour that will see them take this ballet to further flung places that include Lerwick, Kirkwall, Oban and Stornoway.
I have to admit that this review is maybe a little biased from the start as Matthew Bourne is one of my favourite choreographers/dance visionaries and Scottish Ballet are one of my favourite dance companies, so merging the two together to give a performance of “Highland Fling” was always going to please me. Scottish Ballet did perform this work in 2013, but I missed that one. Having said the aforementioned though, I have such high expectations of all the creative talents involved in this production that I was perhaps expecting a little bit more from them than from others, and I am pleased to say that everyone delivered great performances tonight.
Highland Fling is of course the “Trainspotting Generation Ballet” based upon the original great Romantic ballet La Sylphide (debuted in 1832). Matthew Bourne’s original work for this ballet was first performed in 1994, and it is more than fitting that this modern day re-invention set in Glasgow is being performed by dancers based in Glasgow. Some elements of the first act of this performance are still firmly based in their original time period, and the work does come with an age 14+ recommendation as we do explore some adult themes here. The second half however is pure Romantic fantasy. Oddly enough, the notion of “The Romantics” has taken a different meaning to many over the years, and this work returns us to the original notions of a life unrestricted by the rules and conventions of society around them…a life lived to extremes of pleasure and tragedy.
Bringing our tale of the groom who falls under the spell of The Sylph, two of my favourite dancers as individuals, and one of my all time favourite pairs of dancers – Christopher Harrison and Sophie Martin. This is a story based on a world of magic, illusion and fantasy, and Sophie Martin and Christopher Harrison always seem to bring those intangible qualities to any performance that they dance together. Something a little magical always happens on stage between them.
Bethany Kingsley-Garner as Effie, The Intended, is also on wonderful form here with a performance that is full of charm and when needed comedic timing.
As much as I love to watch Scottish Ballet perform any of the traditional “Classics”, It is always a pleasure to watch them perform works that take the dancers away from the traditional outfits, and this revival of Highland Fling staged by Etta Murfitt with stage and costume design by Lez Brotherston is just perfect. There is enough reality here for anyone to recognise what being this age at that time was maybe like (even if they don’t want to) , but enough imagination and fantasy in the mixture to make everything just slightly “off-side”, and it all fits this performance so well.
Matthew Bourne is on video as saying that getting into the character is the first step in any role before any movement begins (not word for word here folks, but you get the idea) , and it is obvious that everyone on stage has not only taken this to heart with very individual and identifiable performances of their characters on stage, but that they are all having so much fun with this production.
At the heart of “Highland Fling” there is a wonderful story as its source material and wonderful music by Herman Severin Lovenskjold (played live tonight by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra), and it is easy to see why Mathew Bourne was so attracted to the work and its possibilities for re-invention.
Highland Fling is funny, romantic and tragic in equal proportions and in an ideal world would be touring forever as a wonderful example of what modern ballet is capable of. If you have never been to a ballet and have any pre-conceived ideas of what is possible on stage, then “Highland Fling” will completely re-set your thoughts.
Review by Tom King