SCOTTISH BALLET AUTUMN SEASON
Seen at Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Touring Scotland until October 20
MICHAEL CLARK COMPANY: NEW WORK 2012
Seen at Tramway, Glasgow
Touring internationally until
Reviewed by Mark Brown
NEW Scottish Ballet artistic director Christopher Hampson’s autumn programme offers a rewardingly diverse series of works. It begins with Run For It, an Olympics-inspired choreography by Martin Lawrance. Fear not, this is not a literal piece in which dancers imitate archers or pole vaulters. Rather, Lawrance opts for a clever and effective homage to the athleticism of the dancer.
The work reflects both the angularity and the smoothness within American composer John Adams’s Son Of Chamber Symphony. At one moment, the work requires a perfect cooperation between two dancers, at another, defiant individualism, and, at yet another, the synchronised movement of the entire cast. It proves that dance is not only as athletic as sport, but also as diverse.
The choreographer, no doubt, intended the piece to be complementary to the Olympics, rather than competitive with them. However, any sporting occasion would struggle to match Scottish Ballet’s startling image of soloist Eve Mutso being held aloft, upside down, her legs at a 180-degree angle to the ceiling.
From the work of a new and young choreographer, the programme moves on to an established giant of world dance. William Forsythe’s Workwithinwork is danced to the superb, distinctly modernist music of Luciano Berio.
Set and costumed with appropriate minimalism, the piece, with its poses en pointe, often seems like a gentle parody of classical ballet. However, like the music the choreography is, ultimately, all about contrast, juxtaposition and the clash of opposites.
Which is not to say that it is a po-faced comment upon war and revolution. Far from it. Forsythe’s choreography bristles with comic touches, not least when the cultured fluidity of lead dancers such as Erik Cavallari and Claire Robertson is deliberately and humorously disturbed by a dancer wending his heavy and ungainly way between his colleagues – proof, as comic performers before and since Chaplin would tell you, that it takes considerable skill to represent awkward movement.
A different kind of modernism is on show in the final work of the programme, Five Tangos by Dutch dance-maker Hans van Manen. The 80-year-old choreographer was at the Theatre Royal on opening night, and, as he joined the dancers on stage for their bows, he seemed happy with Scottish Ballet’s presentation of his work.
Well might he have been. The piece, which is performed to the great tango music of Argentinian composer Ástor Piazzolla, is a glamorous and sexy dance work, given a fittingly classy showing by Hampson’s dancers.
The understated, art deco backdrop sets the tone for a piece which is pure, early-20th century Latin style. Whether in tango’s quintessential pairings or in the closing, fabulous mass movement, the dancers (men dressed all in black, women in black and red tango dresses) exemplify the passion and control of the form.
Carefully controlled movement has always been the forté of the Michael Clark Company, which presented its New Work 2012 at Glasgow’s Tramway, before heading off to London, Belfast and Paris. The Tramway performances constituted the second part of an effective Glasgow double bill, following the Barrowlands Project – which involved dozens of non-professional dancers from the local community – at the famous Barrowland Ballroom on September 8 and 9.
One is struck by how the New Work leads one to reappraise the Barrowlands piece. I was surprised and a little disappointed by how little the earlier work had integrated Clark’s dancers with the community performers, and by how little it engaged with the history of the ballroom itself.
It doesn’t take a cynic to think, upon seeing the new work, that the community element in the Barrowlands piece was a mere add-on to a choreography that Clark was already working on.
So much of New Work 2012 is instantly recognisable from the Barrowlands show. Much of the music (from Pulp to Scritti Politti, the latter of whom appear live in the new piece) is the same. Images such a dancer descending from the ceiling, as if hanged by his neck, and dancers with mirror-topped little stools which they swing, comically, between their legs are common to both shows.
Disappointing though it, surely, is for people who bought tickets for both productions, none of this detracts from the quality of the work itself. The weight-bearing abilities of Clark’s dancers are astonishing; for example, a male dancer swings a female colleague, who appears, not like a rag doll, but like a pendulum.
The sci-fi futurism of the dance to the electronic music and soundscapes of Relaxed Muscle, in which dancers balance and manipulate each other in moments of extreme control, is deeply impressive.
Ultimately, one’s enjoyment of the second half of the show (danced exclusively to the live performance of Scritti Politti) depends very much on one’s attitude to the 1980s pop outfit. For me, I must confess, Clark’s attraction to the lightweight sound of Green Gartside et al is a mystery.
I’ve always considered the choreographer to have a music taste as impeccable as that of footballer-turned-DJ Pat Nevin. Seeing his fine dancers moving to the thin, synthesised sound of Scritti Politti left me feeling disturbed, as if I’d bumped into my Mum at a Grinderman concert.
For Scottish Ballet tour dates, visit: http://www.scottishballet.co.uk/
For Michael Clark tour dates, visit: http://www.michaelclarkcompany.com/
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on October 7, 2012
© Mark Brown