Reviews: Scottish Dance Theatre tour & Private Lives, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (Sunday Herald)

Stage

Scottish Dance Theatre
Seen at Dundee Rep
Touring until May 3

Private Lives
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Until March 8

Reviews by Mark Brown

Scottish Dance Theatre opened their substantial spring programme at their home theatre, Dundee Rep, with two newly commissioned works, Damien Jalet’s Yama and Kingdom, by Jorge Crecis. The short pieces (neither of which exceeds half-an-hour) both reflect the adventurous spirit and courage of SDT, which continues under Fleur Darkin (who took over as artistic director in the autumn of 2012).

The more interesting of the two is Yama, which begins with part-human/part-arachnid creatures emerging, limb after troubling limb, from the hole at the centre of an abstract set. Primordial-yet-timeless, the opening is reminiscent of the unforgettable beginning of François Girard’s extraordinary staging of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex for the Canadian Opera Company, in which the people of Thebes emerge from a mountain of mud, as if from a prehistoric swamp.

Sadly, however, this work by the Franco-Belgian choreographer (which, we are told, was inspired by Jalet’s visit to the tsunami-devastated region of Japan and his encounters with Shintoism) does not share Girard’s consistency of aesthetic vision. Yama – which, at the outset, fascinates in the physically improbable angularity of its featureless, long-haired figures – diminishes itself precisely at the moment that it is characters become more distinctly human.

The dancers swirl in disappointing black and white costumes which are dominated by fluttering strands of material (many of which, distractingly, break off and are left strewn across the set). The sense is less of an ancient, Earth-worshipping ritual than of an embarrassing hippy event from the Sixties.

Spanish dance maker Crecis’s work (inspired, he says, by the massive Occupy movement in Spain), tellingly, also chooses a pre-industrial era (in this case medieval) for its visual imagery. Dancers clad as archetypal peasants of the middle-ages build an impressively versatile structure out of bamboo and rope (sometimes, confusingly, to the sound of cheesy music in the style of Eighties electropop).

Kingdom creates a miniature world which sits intriguingly between ancient religion and an idea of timeless human cooperation. However, one struggles to understand why the construction on one half of the stage is accompanied by uninspired neo-disco dance on the other.

If Crecis’s choreography lacks inspiration, so too does the Lyceum Theatre’s programming of Noël Coward’s 1930 period piece Private Lives. Every theatre critic, like every other drama lover, has their prejudices, and I confess readily to considering Coward an overrated Oscar Wilde impersonator. That said, not all Coward plays (or Coward productions, for that matter) are created equal; Pitlochry Festival Theatre’s memorable staging of Present Laughter last year stands head-and-shoulders above director Martin Duncan’s decidedly middling offering in Edinburgh.

One wonders why companies continue to stage this comedy of manners, in which louche, wealthy divorcees Elyot and Amanda find themselves in adjacent hotel rooms while honeymooning with their new spouses in Normandy. Nevertheless, Francis O’Connor designs the production with garishly grand, if sometimes flimsy, cartoonism.

As the action transfers to an outrageous penthouse apartment in Paris, the five-strong cast (including Nicola Roy, overdoing it as politically incorrect French housekeeper, Louise) do a nice job on Coward’s overwrought slapstick. Kirsty Besterman and John Hopkins impress as the runaway divorcees, but one still finds oneself, where Coward’s play is concerned, disagreeing with Wilde’s famous injunction: “We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously…”

For tour details for Scottish Dance Theatre, visit: scottishdancetheatre.com

These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on February 23, 2013

© Mark Brown

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