It’s not often I feel left a little cold by beautiful male dancers moving in a space. But the first twenty minutes of Angelin Preljocaj’s “MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps)” feels like a series of empty gesturesand takes a while to develop, presenting as it does a ritual cleansing to one side of the stage and to the other, dancers on trolleys, packaged and contorted like meat in containers. They seem to be merely posturing, and it’s a little trite- bodies are ultimately meat: yes, we know. That’s well-worn territory in dance.The whispering, too, is distracting. However, by the third scene, both the pace—and dancing—picks up and starts to flow beautifully.
Based on The Last Supper, twelve men from Scottish Ballet representing Jesus’ apostles, including Constant Vigier, Jamiel Laurence and Javier Andreu, bring full force and a paradoxical grotesque beauty to the piece. The sadism implicit in the punches and slaps to chests, and heads forced sideways, could be a comment on masculinity’s downside, where brutality is favoured over tenderness. Or it is simply a statement about holy war, with all of the horror that implies.
In a tough series of tableaux, the men are either supine or strong; some, prostrate and limp are picked up and carried. Battle lines are clearly drawn in these movements, culminating in a singer being winded mid-song, and a truly extraordinary scene where one man is bound in gaffer tape as he solos, body part by body part, reducing his routine to bunny hops, then merely a pitiful wiggle of his toes. It’s cruel, yet darkly humorous, eliciting uneasy chuckles from the audience. At times it is reminiscent of the allegorical films of Peter Greenaway, or during the more carnal scenes, the sexual and religious ecstasy implicit in performance artist Ron Athey’s work. As the piece progresses, the soundscape by Tedd Zamal gets increasingly pulverising, the men are frozen intermittently in a painterly manner suggestive of religious frescos, and it all falls into place.
If Preljocaj provides the steak, Crystal Pite’s “Emergence” could be the sorbet, refreshing although there is nothing too cute or sweet here. In quick, scurrying movements which make the ensemble seem like animated stop-frame motion characters, the dancers emerge from a mysterious black hole, looking like woodland creatures—albeit ones which are dark, eerie and seemingly veering towards the Gothic. Jay Gower Taylor’s scenery is truly stunning, suggestive of an inferno or some swirling chaotic autumn from a nightmare.
At one stage, the female dancers (there is beautiful solo work in particular from Constance Devernay and Araminta Wraith here) advance towards the men like a gorgeous leggy army, or chess pieces sprung to life. The feeling of battles is swiftly undermined though, as the group gets swallowed up in one mass, and bodies tumble over and around each other, integrated like a human jigsaw. Pite plays with androgyny too, however. Sophie Martin dances topless with some male dancers, but there is never a sexual threat implicit in the work, as the men are similarly half-dressed, and the shaping is all big strides and wide limbs.
Creeping and starting to tiptoe, there is an almost childlike glee in the dancers’ gait, like a game. The whole feels at times otherwordly, yet there are also hints of urban sass in the swinging hips and shoulders. Pite has spoken of the way bees build networks, and the way nature feeds into and informs her work. Towards the end, you could swear the dancers ‘open’ like pods, as they lie splayed on the floor and spread open arms. The footwork, endlessly scuttling across the floor in choppy restless little steps is certainly suggestive of the way insects manoeuvre, and the composition is always shifting. Owen Belton’s gorgeous electro sound is a modernist treat after the more jarring first piece.
A glorious double bill (after a somewhat tentative start) which is another reminder of Scottish Ballet’s superb and challenging ensemble work.