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On Edge

On the back of a US tour of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s imaginative reworking of “A Streetcar Named Desire” comes another bold showing from Scottish Ballet: a double bill with works from Crystal Pite and Angelin Preljoçaj. It’s an edgy turn for the company, and some slick, focused displays of dance arise from it, particularly in Pite’s “Emergence,” created in 2009 for National Ballet of Canada and acquired by Scottish Ballet last year.

Performance

Scottish Ballet: “MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps)”/ “Emergence”

Place

Sadler’s Wells, London, UK, June 7-10, 2017

Words

Sara Veale

Scottish Ballet perform Crystal Pite’s “Emergence.“ Photograph by Andy Ross

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The half-hour piece is shadowy and dynamic, casting 36 dancers as a creaturely flock with a collective social order that belies the normal hierarchy of a ballet company. The men are bare-chested, inked with a dark swirls across their shoulders, while the women don streamlined black leotards. An insect-like vocabulary motors them along, a delectable symphony of twitching, flicking and fluttering—more honeybee in flight than beetle on the ground, though there is a creepy edge that surfaces in prickly piques and shuddering port de bras. Jay Gower Taylor’s set design—a giant elliptical nest, its centre revealed to be a backlit tunnel—is a fine complement, as is Owen Belton’s score, with its primordial clicks and foggy electronic thuds.

Recent works like “Polaris” and “Flight Pattern” have solidified Pite’s reputation as a deft architect of large-scale groupwork, a skill she emphasises in “Emergence,” graphing complex formations and intricate, flighty ensembles. Nowhere is the hivemind more powerful than in the full-cast phrases, 36 bodies trembling and whispering menacingly. The smaller factions make an impact too. When a dozen dancers spill out of the nest, it could be a hundred, such is the force of their presence as they coalesce into a buzzing swarm; and when a throng of 18 women see their slicing pointework disrupted by a man infiltrating the group, the image of agitation is likewise rousing. A few cast members looked uncomfortable with the demanding syncopations of the choreography, but a sense of vigour prevailed despite these moments of doubt.

By contrast, the authority of the dancers in Preljoçaj’s “MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps)” was unwavering; each expertly, devotedly navigated the physical rigours of the piece. As a work of choreography, however, the hour-long piece is hollow and ill-formed, a bloated puzzle of bizarre imagery that’s as oblique as its title. Created on Preljoçaj’s own company 2000, it posits 12 near-naked men as Christ’s apostles, their movement—by turns sensual, athletic and violent—“juxtaposing the glorification of strength and the condemnation of force.” Over the course of an hour they contort, squirm and shudder, hunching their backs and twisting their limbs. There’s an alarming amount of violence (bodies slammed on tables, dragged across the floor, pummelled into submission) but no momentum, a wash of eroticism (massage, trickling water, sultry whispers) but little charge. Opaque symbolism is rife, driving some ugly, inexplicable scenes, including one in which a man is steadily disfigured with duct tape; later, a dancer sings a Latin hymn while fielding blows to his throat from two others.

On the plus side, the dancers here toss up some arresting images, from sculpted towers to Pietà-style poses and dramatic tableaux of the Last Supper. And there’s a salient inventiveness to the manipulation of six metal tables, alternately used as steps, platforms and cells. It’s a shame there’s so little coherence to tie these displays together. The work falls far short of what its individual talent deserves.

Sara Veale


Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor. She's written about dance for the Observer, the Spectator, DanceTabs, Auditorium Magazine, Exeunt and more. Her first book, Untamed: The Radical Women of Modern Dance, will be published in 2024.

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