Scottish Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, London

Scottish Ballet was in Rosebery Avenue for this performance and also in Jekyll and Hyde mood. A double bill opened with an offence against dance, against Mozart, and must qualify for the police-court term “a noxious thing”. Then, having presumably taken some restorative potion in the interval, the company returned to give a heart-stirring account of MacMillan’s Song of the Earth and reasserted the idea that Scotland’s ballet is a serious artistic enterprise.

The MacMillan performance was fascinating, not least for the fact that here was this great ballet – made for an opera house stage, first in Stuttgart and then at Covent Garden – given in the more immediate conditions of the Wells. I found it heart-rending as ever and, understandably, more direct in its emotional effects. The choreography’s scheme, the placing of incident on stage, acquired a new and valuable urgency. The score was admirably done by the Royal Philharmonic’s Concert Orchestra under Richard Honner, with the singers Karen Cargill and Richard Berkeley-Steele, and in everything the music shaped the integrity of the dance interpretations.

No praise too great for Sophie Martin as the Woman: such selfless clarity, such artistry, are beautiful. I remember MacMillan’s comment when faced with dancers’ wilfulness: “Why don’t they trust the steps!”. Sophie Martin trusts the steps with all her being, and is magnificent. No less true the manner of Erik Cavallari as the Man and Christopher Harrison as the Messenger: noble, selfless dancing. And exactly so the ensemble, in a performance that owes much to the coaching of Donald MacLeary (who was the original Man in the Royal Ballet’s staging). A masterpiece honoured.

About the preceding Kings 2 Ends, made by Jorma Elo, a Finnish choreographer now resident in Boston, I can but report that it forcibly marries scores by Steve Reich and Mozart, that its manner is frenetic, weirdly reliant on physical tics as an aspect of choreography, and is damnable in every respect. It makes its cast look foolish, and I think it without a single redeeming feature. I care not one damn what dancing does to the works of Steve Reich, which invite abrasions, but poor Mozart!

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