For new Scottish Ballet artistic director Christopher Hampson, kicking things off with a triple bill seems a good way to delve into different choreographic styles, not to mention the chance to show off the breadth of talent the company has to offer. Certainly if this is the measure of things to come there’s a lot to look forward to.
What comes across most is Scottish Ballet’s knack for melding classical poise with contemporary innovation, in three pieces by different generations of distinctly different choreographers. Each is able to bring home the idea of choreography as a language, a communication that comes from the personality of the artist in much the same way as a brushstroke on a canvas.
It’s right, that in the year all eyes turned to sports, dancers too should be celebrated for their strength and agility, and Martin Lawrance’s Run for It makes a good case for ballet being classed in the next Olympics. Bright, light and with muscular energy tempered by control, dancers clad in aquatic blue leotards twist through the loping beats of John Adams’s Son of Chamber Symphony. The backdrop of designer Martin Boyce’s vision, a huge stately column, protrudes to the ceiling, exploding into a geometric display of shapes that glow alive like a giant Olympic torch in the piece’s second movement. There is a sense of space between each body on stage, and the precision that comes through each turn or rotation make just watching it feel invigoratingly healthy.
The same cleanliness however, which in Lawrance’s piece shines so brilliantly, takes something away from the final piece, Hans van Manen’s 5 Tangos, set to a selection of music by Astor Piazzolla. A rigid, charcoal patterned backdrop and the layered costumes of the women hint at Art Deco motifs or Cubism, the angles of which are echoed by sharp choreography that plays off Piazzolla’s jagged rhythms. But the aching melodies that lurk at the heart of the music – connecting it to its tango roots – play second fiddle and the dance is stifled by a politeness that leaves you craving some of tango’s rawness, its violent temper and uncensored desire. Things warm up a little in the final movement but still the balance of 5 Tangos swings more towards elegance than passion.
It’s not the case that classical grace and deep sensuality are at odds with one another, and if there was ever proof of this, it’s in the evening’s middle piece, an electrifying revival of William Forsythe’s Workwithinwork. Soft lighting beautifully sets off the crushed velvet and shimmer of Stephen Galloway’s pared-back costumes and works with the complexity of the dance to make this a piece you could watch again and again without tiring of, so intricate are its patterns and so perfect its harmony with Luciano Berio’s duetting violins. Arms link into shapes like metalwork puzzles, tempos change quickly, and an otherworldly baroque quality to the dancers’ bodies make them seem at times like a box of strange little toys come to life in a slightly melancholy toy box.