Dance Odysseys, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh – review

At their best, festivals allow companies and performers to escape the straitjacket of commercial viability and to stretch themselves and their audience. So it is with Scottish Ballet, which, under its new director Christopher Hampson, has assembled an eclectic mix of dance works, discussions and explorations of choreography new and old. If truth be told, it displays a pick-and-mix approach to programming, lacking a demonstrable theme, but allows for some fortuitous juxtapositions and a true sense of festival.

Glen Tetley’s Pierrot Lunaire is a masterpiece, arguably Tetley’s only one, and to revisit its strange fusion of ballet and modern dance in a commedia dell’arte setting to Schoenberg’s atonal, yowling “song” cycle is always welcome. Donning the white Pierrot costume was Luke Ahmet, touching in his innocence but missing much of the poetry of gesture, whereas Bethany Kingsley-Garner impressed as a sinuous, sluttish Columbine and Owen Thorne was a rampant Brighella. Rouben Ter-Arutunian’s scaffolding tower remains a classic of set design.

The “Duets” programme resurrected two excerpts from the extensive oeuvre of Scottish Ballet’s founder artistic director Peter Darrell, all but ignored these days, and it is to be hoped that this signals the beginning of his rehabilitation by his company. Alas, a soupy duet from Chéri would not work out of its context and was yoked to ugly music, but a duet and solo from Five Rückert Songs evoked the solitude and loss of Mahler’s composition, Kingsley-Garner again intense of emotion. Of the rest, laurels to James Cousins’ brilliantly conceived duo from Jealousy – restricted to a small red mat lit from above, Sophie Martin never touching the ground as she writhed over Victor Zarallo, she in skimpy shift, he bare-chested, in what felt like a voyeuristic intrusion into their intimacy.

Cousins scored a second hit with Still it Remains in the “New Voices” programme, an intense female quartet imbued with heavy expectancy and characterised by earthbound movement to Middle Eastern sound. Established choreographer Helen Pickett offered The Room to the first movement of Bruch’s Violin Concerto – big dancing and big emotions to a big score. Two women and a man are thrown together by a controlling, brutal second man – the potent Remi Andreoni – they strip, come together explosively and break apart in a fascinating state of emotional trauma. It ended all too soon with nothing explained.

The UK premiere of Hampson’s The Rite of Spring was to be the plat de résistance of this long weekend of dance, but it emerged distinctly underdone. Using only three dancers (all admirable), Hampson imposes a narrative in which Christopher Harrison’s overbearing older brother pushes Constant Vigier’s younger sibling around in the work’s first half, Luciana Ravizzi as Faith/Death hovering above them atop the sloping white-wall set. The men wear hakama-like heavy black skirts, lending ritualism to their movements.

The second section brings an evocation of military torture, of today’s Middle East, of mankind now sacrificing to political gods. As a reaction to Stravinsky it is not enough – Hampson has nothing to match the terrifying beauty of the score – and the effect of the sacrifice is accordingly diminished.

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