mon 01/06/2020

Scottish Ballet, Rubies/ Workwithinwork/ In Light and Shadow, Sadler's Wells | reviews, news & interviews

Scottish Ballet, Rubies/ Workwithinwork/ In Light and Shadow, Sadler's Wells

Scottish Ballet, Rubies/ Workwithinwork/ In Light and Shadow, Sadler's Wells

Forsythe suits the Scots well, more than Balanchine

Rubies is a ballet for a girl comfortable with her curves, who can slink her hips and tip her bottom and relish seeing the men’s eyes widen. That the said girl is a ballerina, for whom curves are usually anathema, shows the personality challenge that this snazzy, jazzy George Balanchine ballet sets to its leading lady.

That Sophie Martin, Scottish Ballet’s French leading lady, had enough personality to suggest Bette Midler curves, despite her refined build, is a measure of what fun she was to watch when the company hit Sadler’s Wells last night.

Musical values were good, with Stravinsky, Berio and Bach and some decent playing of the Bach by the Scottish Ballet orchestra. Balanchine’s Rubies is the middle part of his Jewels triptych, made arm in arm with his old friend Igor; it whiffs of two Russians strolling down Broadway and eyeing the chorus-girls -  the whip-drilled ballerinas in their brazen little red jewelled tunics, and the men merely their professional arm-candy.

Martin, all sloe-eyed femininity and smart timing, has a sophistication deserving less lightweight partnering than Adam Blyde's, and showing up the corps of eight girls, who needed more of the mean, lean synchronisation of Radio City Music Hall Rockettes to make true impact in these sardonic, seen-it-all ensembles. It’s not evident that Scottish Ballet’s resources nowadays include the razor-edged technique needed to make those turned-in knees and kooky shrugs as provocative as they should be, most exposed by the second ballerina, Vassilissa Levtonova, miscast in a role that should have the enigmatic sexual razzle-dazzle of a Marlene Dietrich.

But Rubies on this programme was a neat way to announce the company’s ruby anniversary, the 40th of its existence since Peter Darrell moved his dancers from Bristol to Glasgow. Too small, and perhaps too culturally eclectic, to have consolidated itself as a leading classical company, it now, under Ashley Page’s direction, rides two horses by attempting tricky neo-classics like this (and Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet, in the current tour) alongside modern ballets to which hearts and physiques more readily cleave.

Workwithinwork, a 1998 William Forsythe piece on this programme, was danced with what looked like a sense of relief by the company, after the Balanchine. Surprisingly from the master of jags and snags, it is a rather gentle, insistent beauty of a ballet. For all the stretched diagonals, tilts and wide-angled limbs that are Forsythe’s hallmark, these are emotive duets and constantly fluid dances that flow out of Luciano Berio’s violin Duetti,  a poignantly romantic set of what are effectively studies (richly recorded by uncredited violinists). The episodes seem to be intermittently legible as reflecting the multiple moods of a couple’s love. One duet is all spiky, sulky, split-jointed alienation, ending when the man, beaten, sits on the ground and holds up his hand, “Stop”. Another, set to a domestic, lilting lullaby, seems to hint at the parental stage of a joint life, intimately united by their love for their babies. Still, I’d say the music, while not being too long to listen to, is too long to watch to.

Both of these works show up the thinness of Krzysztof Pastor’s In Light and Shadow, yet another Bach ballet, and therefore under the additional strain of fresh memories of meaty dances to JSB from Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Kim Brandstrup, just seen in the last month. Both of those choreographers responded to Bach’s ineluctable pulses with confident imagination and evident deep acquaintance with the music. Pastor merely sets people in big dresses moving in enchainements that announce “I speak ballet”, without any further significance, on top of first the aria from the Goldberg Variations, then the orchestral Suite no 3.

The set by Tatyana van Walsum is fine and beautifully lit, though her costumes look like curtains grabbed from a baroque washing line. But Bach gives no quarter to a skimpy choreographer. Besides Martin, with her musicality, the great sight was Paul Liburd, wearing a sarong with majestic abandon in the haunting Air, flourishing surely the grandest physique in dance today, and whose seriousness and beautiful arms and hands carried a speaking eloquence that few men anywhere can equal.

Scottish Ballet perform this programme in London again tonight and tomorrow. Book online here. Then touring to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness, information here.

Check out what's on at Sadler's Wells this season

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