Scottish Ballet Review: A Performance Of Contrasts
Silently, guided by some internal cue, she began to undulate her torso and limbs. Her motions gained momentum, and she began to dance, sometimes in start-stop motions like a puppet or automation, sometimes forming shapes with her arms as if miming a story. But there was no visible story. Just form and motion and ballet blended with modern dance.
When her solo came to a pause, the music began. It was ear-splitting, pumped through the house speakers. Steve Reich’s “Double Sextet” brought in the cast of male dancers, followed by an equal number of female ballerinas. All were dressed in black leotards and unitards. Their motions ran the gamut from graceful to absurd, drawing on everything from classical ballet to disco to mime.
This was largely the theme of the night: minimalist settings, precise choreography, and attention to contrasting elements. In their first visit to the United States in over 20 years, the Scottish Ballet demonstrated impressive technique, performing two pieces, “Kings 2 Ends” and “Song of the Earth.”
The first, “Kings 2 Ends” set two extremely different musical pieces back to back, first Reich’s driving, minimalist “Double Sextet,” then Amadeus Mozart’s famous “Violin Concerto No 1.” Here Jorma Elo’s choreography toyed with familiar musical and performance conventions: the dancers continued to dance even in the silence between the movements in Mozart’s concerto, and ran full tilt about the stage to get into position. There were moments of humor, such as when the entire cast (now dressed in vibrant reds) abruptly collapsed onto their backs at the end of Mozart’s second movement.
Yet despite the unexpected transitions and unfamiliar dance vocabulary, the performers demonstrated expert control in their movements. Their second piece, titled “Song of the Earth” set to Gustav Mahler’s song cycle of the same name, “Das Lied von der Erde,” introduced three central characters, the hero and heroine dressed starkly in white, and the white-masked Messenger of Death dressed in contrasting black. The remaining ensemble members wore a mix of black and white or fawn gray.
Longer and somewhat less experimental than “Kings 2 Ends,” “Song of the Earth” operated as a series of vignettes, each tied together with the lurking, powerful presence of the Messenger of Death. Choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan in 1965, it explores the role of longing, solitude, and acceptance in the face of death. From the moment the heroine floats up onto pointe and flutters across the stage, there is a sense of the surreal world of emotion that connects and divides us from life and from each other.
From its opening moment in silence, to the deafening recordings of Reich, Mozart, and Mahler; from its classical moments to its contemporary explorations; and from abstract motions to thematic musings on the cycle of life, the Scottish Ballet’s performance was an exercise in contrasts. Yet the performers’ professionalism and technique were consistent and unwavering.
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