Even before Scottish Dance Theatre’s double bill has begun, things seem to be going wrong. The house doesn’t open until five minutes before curtain up and when we are finally let in, the stage is strewn with technical equipment being bustled away. Dancers stretch, floors are cleaned. While the thought crosses my mind that this could all be intentional, when the rehearsal manager steps forward to explain that there was a burst pipe backstage causing an electrical fault you can almost feel the collective sympathy seeping forward. It’s a half empty house anyway, SDT having had the misfortune to be programmed against a touring Russian company on one of the rare occasions international dance visits Edinburgh outwith festival time.
No matter, they will soldier on with Victor Quijada’s Second Coming, presenting us with some warm-up exercises: lithe android-like stretches falling into breakdance turns and impromptu beat battles. Their lead dancer has taken sick, so replacement Nicole Guarino has to show us her solo. But the lights aren’t ready, and while she performs unearthly twirls and melts into wide empty embraces, the contrast of the techies faffing and shouting around her make her movement seem even more strange and beautiful.
It’s then that my own gullibility ballet-kicks me in the head. The rehearsal manager admits he lied; there was no leak. The truth is that the choreographer’s a bit of a control freak and they had to fire him. No, that’s made up too, attests a dancer delivering a disgruntled monologue about Brechtian alienation while being dragged unwillingly into lyrical phrases and shapes.
This farcical layer cake of post-modernism keeps itself on just the right side of playful, and is at its best when the meta-clowning merges fluidly with the dance onstage. A baroque dance battle starts out lightly comic but ends up knotting itself into an eye-bending tangled trio, backed by a chamber music mash-up that links the formal and LA street-dance training of choreographer Quijada (who may or may not be a control freak).
Away from sweatpants and fourth-wall bashing, Jo Strømgren’s Winter, Again continues the theme of buffoonery, this time in the austere landscape of a paper-scattered stage. From behind strips of dusty white curtain, dancers in corsets and ruffles take turns falling in and out of duets and trios, crafting an elegiac pageant out of the bleakness, calling on archetypes of nature and theatre; flapping crow arms and bent-backed creeping, melodramatic flourishes and long aching phrases. A cruelty of slaps and claps, prods and groin grabs underscores the haunting score of Schubert lieder, made grotesque by the occasional depositing of a dead bird onstage, or the nonchalant dragging of a stag carcass across it. Joan Clevillé and Nicole Guarino duet like two wild snowflakes and somehow Strømgren seems to capture in this distinctly Scandinavian setting both the ugliness and the beauty, the horror and the warmth, of winter.