Scotland’s national dance company, Scottish Ballet, returned to the London stage at The Sadler’s Wells Theatre with a programme that aimed to show the company as a tour de force with two very different pieces, but with an over-arching theme and display of group dances.
It was very much an evening of two halves. The first a piece by French contemporary choreographer, Angelin Preljoçaj called MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps). Put simply a piece created to challenge the senses for a very long 55 minutes of contemporary movement that oozed barbaric violence and male testosterone bandaged up to the sounds of banging, crashing, squelching, grinding: noises that were relentless for the duration. For some a pill best left in the wrapper. For many a tonic that was so bitter, one would have to add a double gin to the tonic at the much awaited interval to make it taste more palatable; or at least make sense of what one had just endured.
MC 14/22 had been mothballed for some years and some would say should have been so forever. A very brave move by Scottish Ballet’s latest Artistic Director, Christopher Hampson, a superb choreographer in his own right. The canny Scottish always like a good deal and in Hampson they have three for the price of one! An Artistic Director, choreographer and also Chief Executive all rolled into one ambitiously talented and articulate individual. Hampson’s brave hearted vision was delivered as prescribed as a contemporary resurrection of the biblical Last Supper by Scottish Ballet’s all male cohort. The twelve male dancers gave full commitment to Preljoçaj’s unusual yet thought provoking language of dance.
The piece starts with masculine tenderness as a male washes another male with water but very quickly moves into a world of violence with the male body stripped to its core to show the juxtaposition of glorified strength against the condemnation of force. The backdrop starts with six steel-tubed tables stacked up like a surreal mortuary of male bodies deceiving death by movement in the dark. Then suddenly these same tables take on a new light as they are deconstructed and built into a line of six long tables for the tableaux last supper. The violence is brutal with recurring grotesque muscular distorting bodies taking centre stage. At one point the audience is taken further out of their comfort zone as one dancer tapes another dancer, as he performs a series of recurring movements. Each time he finishes the series of movements more tape is applied to the limbs and body until the dancer becomes a mummified body trying to perform the original dance… this became gripping to say the least and for some it would have been a talking point for the interval as to how much gaffer tape was used in the end, and didn’t he do well to appear two minutes later without any tape.
On its own Preljoçaj’s MC 14/22 would have been a ‘strictly disaster,’ but Hampson had a game plan for the evening… a game of two halves. Crystal Pite is on a crest of a wave as her choreography sets sail around the world. Canadian born, Pite has recently triumphed with her work Flight Pattern for The Royal Ballet. Emergence was Pite’s first piece created for a major classical dance company; National Ballet of Canada in 2009. It too has taken flight and is also performed by Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet. The first nesting place for Scottish Ballet’s Emergence was at the Edinburgh Festival last year. Pite is very clever in her use of large groups of dancers on stage. Her inspiration for the piece was from a scientific paper on “The connected lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software” by American science theorist Steven Johnson. Pite delved into the connection of the social organisation of bees and the hierarchical nature of classical ballet companies. Pite’s fascination of swarm intelligence is clear to see in her work where large groups of people are responding to local stimuli.
The notion of a large group of ballerinas, all identically costumed like birds, taking flight with their pointe shoes travelling across the stage as one is riveting. The dancers stop, start, and dart in an instant with swirling patterns and straight lines with a hypnotic and mesmorising effect. With the dark orange backdrop, with nest like large patterns taking centre stage, the forty plus dancers come to a frenzied climax of relevés and bird like arm movements that depicts that final moment of first flight from the nest! The juxtaposition of human violence against the beauty of nature and its scary first steps to freedom makes for an engaging evening of dance. Gin without Tonic… Pite without Preljoçaj would not be the same. Together Everyone Achieves More; Great TEAM work Scottish Ballet!