Crystal Pite’s Emergence is a riveting work, performed with glorious precision and attack by Scottish Ballet. Originally created in 2009 for the National Ballet of Canada, Emergence takes its title from the biological description of collective behaviours in nature found amongst bees, ants and the like. Pite deftly links the notion of swarm intelligence to the hierarchical structures of a ballet company – it’s a neat conceit, using the uniformity of a ballet corps, in which individuality is subsumed into the perfect whole, to suggest a superorganism at work.
Against an orangey backdrop scored with a swirl of abstract lines around the circular hive entrance, the dancers’ classical lines are adjusted and lent a sinister insectoid quality – hands are flexed, fluttered and clawed, elbows jut sharply like wings or antennae, stepping legs are given a mantis-like strangeness and deliberation. In a swooping duet, bare-chested Sophie Martin is moth-light and daintily feral. A soundscape features clicking sounds, as if a powerful microphone had been placed next to a millipede.
There’s a wonderful sequence during which the women of the corps scurry to form a huddle downstage and bourrée together on pointe. Whereas dancers usually try to disguise the sound of hard pointe shoes against the stage, here the insistent thrumming of their feet is used to transfixing, almost threatening effect – the colony fully co-ordinated, poised for action. Other sounds, usually hidden, draw us into this strange subterranean world. It becomes clear that a hissing from the ensemble is actually the dancers counting beats together – the balletic interior metronome made audible and creepily unrelenting.
But Pite is too intelligent and inventive a choreographer to merely provide us with thrilling visions of synchronicity. This is a complex society in which heteroglossic phrases of movement play out simultaneously, until an incredible final sequence of relevés and windmilling arms seems to prefigure a climactic moment of fight or flight.
By comparison, Angelin Preljocaj’s MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps) is a rather turgid study of male barbarism and tenderness. Though there are arresting moments, the piece is dulled by repetition, although it’s excellently danced throughout. To a soundscape of squelching, slopping water, grinding and crunching, twelve Apostolic male dancers in little white pants and black skirts perform violent and sacrificial acts.
The flesh is mortified in tight unison, as dancers fling and wrench each other onto and around Last Supper-esque tables. Even more grimace-inducing to watch is a sequence in which one dancer, stripped of his skirt, is viciously bound up with parcel tape by a peer. Desperately attempting to keep performing a combination of steps, he’s subjected to yet more adhesive constriction, until mummified by gaffer tape. I trust Scottish Ballet has a good supply of Savlon for this brave soul.
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