Scottish Ballet and Sophie Laplane, Indoors and more
The finest choreographers have not only a signature style, but walk their own creative paths—think Pina Bausch, Merce Cunningham, Crystal Pite, Michael Clark, Botis Seva and Sharon Eyal. All are idiosyncratic visionaries with their own stylistic quirks and traits. All have raised eyebrows, and raised the roof with their work, which may not be rooted in the comfort of traditions and familiarity, but rather, leave indelible marks on the viewer. If you can make an audience member squirm, laugh, feel puzzled, or even aroused—sometimes, all at once—job done! The best artists create worlds within worlds. So it is with genius choreographer and dancer Sophie Laplane. The Franco-British ex-Scottish Ballet dancer turned choreographer creates the most astonishing pieces, characterised by otherworldly balletic patterns and jerky hip-hop moves, like popping and locking, alongside some playful scenes too. She’s no stranger to inducing chuckles.
Her short film, Maze,filmed at Govanhill Baths, Glasgow by Eve McConnachie, contains just that. Madeline Squire and Javier Andreu move towards each other, only just skimming each other’s body lines, like perfectly-tuned automatons becoming human. They appear as Artificial Intelligence prototypes programmed to fall in love. The little spasmodic tics and flicks feel like watching computer images buffering on a screen, as they tentatively move towards each other for a kiss.
Another typically knotty piece, “Dextera,” again integrates ballet with more contemporary nuances, and notions of female bodies as mannequins, exploring and tickling at the dated limitations within ballet. “Sibilo” plays with human interactions and different eras, like a silent movie for the twenty-first century bursting into full colour, and exploring modern technology. It is the ambiguity, chased through Laplane’s various routes and detours, that make her ouevre so compelling. A U-turn may initially seem like a cul-de-sac, but something new can always be discovered there, when the lights show the way.
So how to respond, then, to that most modern global concern, navigating life in lockdown? Christopher Hampson, the CEO and artistic director of Scottish Ballet, commissioned Laplane to make work in response to isolation during the Coronavirus pandemic. After just one week, Indoorswas made. Featuring 28 doors and 36 dancers, all of whom rehearsed together using Zoom, it’s an incredible undertaking.
Her innovative fingerprints are all over this short film, again made in collaboration with filmmaker Eve McConnachie. A ‘wall’ of doors (the dancers’ front doors) becomes the place for the dancers to pop in and out, to the comic opera interlude of Mozart’s “Papageno, Papagena” from “The Magic Flute.” Again, humour and elements of surprise are the key ingredients here.
The company appear like little hatching chicks, blinking in newborn light; undulate, spin, appear to move in a train like a Hollywood chorus line, and kick and blink like wind-up toys.Even the doors open and close in a choreographic rhythm. It’s smart, playful and disarmingly athletic, while seeming light and effortless.
At times, the company appear to reference yoga poses, beloved of so many trying to stay healthy while trapped inside. A slight little swivel or bob of the head from one dancer, emerging as another disappears, creates a beautiful composition on the screen. There’s a pleasing symbiosis to the most micro of movements, and a kaleidoscopic pattern created by limbs, as the music hits its crescendo. It is timeless work, while providing a nod to the need to reach out to each other in these most testing of times. It may appear to be frivolous and frothy, but there’s a subtext emerging: it serves as a reminder of our interconnected selves, the time to communicate when we find ourselves stuck inside . . . and just to keep moving.