Principal Dancers – Claire Robertson, Soon Ja Lee, Tama Barry
George Balanchine – Choreography
Igor Stravinsky – Music (Capriccio for piano and orchestra)
Karinska – Design
William Forsythe – Choreography
Luciano Berio – Music (Duetti for two violins)
Stephen Galloway – Costume Design
William Forsythe – Lighting
In Light and Shadow
Krzysztof Pastor – Choreography
J S Bach – Music Goldberg Variations, BWV988 – Aria & Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BWV1068 (excerpts)
Tatyana van Walsum – Design
Bert Dalhuysen – Lighting
Lynda Cochrane & Brian Prentice (pianos)
Scottish Ballet Orchestra
Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler
Reviewed: 2 October, 2009
Venue: Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
Scottish Ballet is 40 years old this season. It has often been a bumpy ride; the early period of Peter Darrell’s directorship (essentially the first 18 years) was arguably the company’s most successful time, although ex-Royal ballet stalwart Ashley Page’s appointment in 2002 has breathed life into what had become a tired and increasingly artistically moribund ensemble. It is a shame that in celebrating the 40th anniversary, Page saw fit not to evoke Darrell, the founding director with a revival of some of his excellent choreography, but we must, at least, be thankful that he did not choose to programme some of his own creations.
This triple bill served to emphasise the company’s neo-classical pedigree and is a statement of intent on Page’s part – Scottish Ballet is a ballet company and not a modern dance ensemble. Alas, the technical prowess of his dancers is not yet on a level to tackle some works, but, bravely, Page programmes them anyway, presumably to improve standards and the challenge. The company have been performing Rubies for four years now, so it is with some alarm that one thinks how it must have been done back then when the technical standard was not what it is today. It is a formidable work, made for the spiky and athletic dancers of New York City Ballet, so Scottish Ballet’s dancers need not hang their heads if they do not match that particular company, but to see this work, already performed in London this year by The Royal Ballet and the Mariinsky no less, was to see (most of) the steps and not much else. The central section of Balanchine’s grandest piece of self-advertisement jewels, Rubies celebrates the ‘American school’ of ballet (which Balanchine had essentially created): sassy, fast, dangerous and provoking. Scottish is not in a position to provide any of these qualities, and the principals all lacked the pizzazz needed to toss off the technical demands while grinning with cheeky delight, to thrust their hips provocatively and to play with both steps and music. Performances by all three were dutiful, earth-bound and not a little desperate at times, faces fixed in grim and slightly terrified determination. Interestingly, the female corps de ballet had more attack and requisite style than their superiors, and the quartet of four men was characterful if not always together (Balanchine rarely cared about perfect synchronisation anyway). The performance remained soft-focus where it should have been crystal clear, tame when it should have been dangerous and unengaged when it should have been sexually laden.
The dancers seemed far more at home in William Forsythe’s Workwithinwork, his 1998 farewell to pointe work; indeed, they have improved in it since their debut in the work at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. This piece, compared with his later creations, is ‘accessible’ Forsythe, and while it is too long (all 32 duetti), it explores the relationships between dancers, with themselves, with the music, the stage and the audience. Outstanding were French principal Sophie Martin, whose understanding and musicality (the later not a particularly developed side to the company’s dancers as a whole) make her stand out and American coryphée William Smith whose ‘outsider’ character was illuminated by his stage presence and physical flexibility; he has the elusive quality of catching one’s eye. Forsythe’s own chiaroscuro lighting is effective although the less said about the costumes the better: who ever thought that see-through tights and a baggy chenille vest was a good look for the men?
The evening ended on a high with Krzysztof Pastor’s audience pleasing In Light and Shadow, a cheery work set to bits of Classic FM Bach, played admirably by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra under Richard Honner’s baton. Pastor evokes a tranquil, peaceful quality in the opening pas de deux set to the aria of the Goldberg Variations. Here Martin again shone out, her pleasing line and light-touch musicality very much highlighted, and admirably partnered by Adam Blyde. It is a beautiful pas de deux, a gentle opening to the work which then bursts into joyous dancing to excerpts from the Orchestral Suite No.3. Pastor evokes happiness – the choreographic palette is reminiscent of Mark Morris, except that the women are on pointe, and he seeks to match the baroque formality of the music with light, airborne dancing – jetés, fast pirouettes, high arabesques, lifts and speed. It is invigorating and pleasing to the eye with a monumental set (three huge panels tilted towards the audience and some most effective lighting). Costumes are bizarre – the men are essentially in briefs but wearing scraps of ‘period’ costume – a waistcoat with no back on one, a cut-away frock-coat on another. But that is a minor quibble; it is fun and is guaranteed to bring a smile to one’s face. Outstanding was Paul Liburd, ex-Rambert stalwart and still dancing with eye-catching style.
In all then, an interesting evening, even if not all elements worked. What is says about the years to come for the company is difficult to say, but Page must be saluted for having saved, shaken out and subsequently reinvigorated Scottish Ballet. We wish them many happy returns.