Dundee Rep Theatre, Dundee, Scotland, February 9, 2018
On the face of it, these two short pieces performed by the mighty Scottish Dance Theatre have little in common. They create two very distinct worlds. Yet they both deal in disruption of form, and riff on well-known themes which touch our lives. Artistic director Fleur Darkin invites the audience to spot the link between two such disparate works, and as both pieces expand, so the similarity is revealed.
Limitations that society places on the individual provides the undercurrent. There are many layers of meaning to peel away. Fluidity of both the self and our place in society is key to understanding each piece in turn, particularly as issues around the LGBTQI community, and the fall out from (in) famous sex scandals are creating new dialogues in how better to shape our world. It’s testament to the forward-thinking energy of SDT that they carry out such bold creations with vigour.
A brand new commission, Colette Sadler’s “Ritualia,” a reimagining of Stravinsky’s 1923 ballet “Les Noces,” disrupts binary notions of gender, and genres. It’s a slightly tentative start, but soon becomes a fascinating study in amorphous forms. By placing the ensemble in black skin-hugging costumes, they seem almost as silhouettes.
Initially, only one figure is a representation of the feminine, swathed in a wool costume (she is tethered to a clump of yarn on the floor, but this is rejected and she slopes off). When the group reappear in almost Regency era like wool headpieces, they are still not earthly, even more bizarre. Their movements are angular, stately, grouping off in pairs—or static, tied in knots, limbs entwined like braiding. The material (the concept of woolen braiding) alludes to marital matters—the ties that bind. Sadler’s figures may be freed from such constraints and rituals as marriage, or even romantic unions.
Jessie Roberts-Smith particularly impresses, her long graceful limbs and almost regal physicality lending itself to the statuesqe poses. As the Stravinsky score turns into beats, so the dancers get looser in both stance and movements. All of Scottish Dance Theatre’s creeping, crawling dancers, legs splayed and arms contorted, even become reminiscent of Louise Bourgeois’s wonderfully imposing spider sculpture, Maman, itself a critique of the family as a source of stability or comfort.
Meanwhile, Botis Seva’s masterful “TuTuMucky” disrupts ballet and hip hop, by blurring the two within a contemporary dance framework. It’s jarring, sexy and very smart.
Torben Lars Sylvest’s pumping, witty soundtrack which samples a ballet teacher dishing out ‘pas de bourée’ and ‘plié’ instructions, also glitches with modern production techniques and beats, and old school 80’s samples alike. Counting the beats is regimental, before fragmenting and imploding entirely. Dancers are automaton-like, lit in designer Emma Jones’ sci-fi beams of half light: they may all sport tutus, but there’s no sense of balletic convention presented here, as they hunch over in warlike positions, back muscles glistening and rippling as they flex and glower. Ready to pounce, knees are trembling in corners. Feet are restless, dancers feel their ribcages to check component parts are operational, and some glide over the floor as though on castors, the very picture of blank-faced control. They shake and punch the air, rising up in unison. Twerking was rarely so disarming, so disturbing.
Repetition is key to understanding means of production, and the dancers’ patterns follow similar manic lines, as though a factory dealing in AI performers. The machine is taking over; the machine’s needs fixed. The machine is becoming sentient, the machine will reproduce now. The machine… will reproduce… now… in twenty seconds. The machine… will… reproduce… sooner or later. Now, the five ballet positions are made mutable by Seva’s choreography, and anything as traditional as ballet becomes as anachronistic as old VCRs and computer software. Only the machine remains.