Regular dance goers in London are likely to be more familiar with frequent foreign visitors like NDT I and II than some of the British ballet companies who visit very seldom. Scottish Ballet hadn’t appeared in London for twenty years until this week. The reason behind this in the past seem to be some quirk of Arts Council funding which had the effect of dividing up the country into competing territories. This seems to be gradually changing. Scottish Ballet are only here for three days however: and although they have been touring La Syphide in Scotland - a work not currently in the repertory of any other British company - they chose not to bring this to London, but instead a triple bill of more modern works.
If the evening could be considered somewhat mixed in its fortunes, Scottish Ballet are still to be congratulated at having survived at all. They have been through a really difficult couple of years, with financial difficulties, a board which found itself unable to appoint a new Artistic Director for over a year, squabbles about merging its orchestra with another, and uncertainty about what direction the company was to take - whether it should be a classical company or move in a more contemporary direction. Although Robert North has recently been confirmed as the new Artistic Director, this programme was planned before his appointment by Kenn Burke who has been Acting Artistic Director for some time. The evening included a revival of a Macmillan piece which has been absent from the Royal’s repertory for twenty years, a new commission from Tim Rushton, and the newly acquired Rapture by Lila York. Scottish Ballet had been given a fair amount of publicity in the press, the seats were reasonably priced, and there hasn’t been much ballet in London for the last few weeks, so it was a shame to see that the theatre was nowhere near full. Perhaps ballet audiences in London are saving up for the Bolshoi’s onslaught on their wallets in a month’s time.
The MacMillan work, Diversions, was an interesting choice. It’s a very early work, from 1961, made when de Valois asked MacMillan to produce an abstract work as part of a triple bill against a fairly tight deadline. It uses Bliss’s Music for Strings, and is four two lead couples, periodically echoed by four other couples. It is not at all what you might have come to think of as typical MacMillan - no passion, but a cool correctness, no high lifts or women dragged across the floor, but instead long slow balances that were sometimes a little reminiscent of the central pas de deux of Concerto - but not in the same class. It was a brave choice for SB’s dancers: the steps are very demanding, and in general (Ari Takahashi excepted) they did not look as if they had the measure of them. MacMillan frequently has each member of the corps in turn repeat the ballerina’s phrase and any insecurity in technique or unevenness of timing shows up horribly. For the most part the dancers made it look like very hard work, and most looked exhausted by the end. This showing did not persuade that this work was a forgotten masterpiece but I would still be interested in seeing it done by dancers who could attack the steps with the verve required. The designs were distinctly unflattering, particularly for the men, with a combination of purple tights and crimson top for one of the male leads which set the teeth on edge.
The designs for the second item, Night Life, were by the ubiquitous Lez Brotherston, who has worked with great success on many productions for AMP and NBT. This time he has come up with an elegant scheme of extreme, austere simplicity - a series of seven pale receding frames which create a ‘stage within a stage’ look. The six dancers peer out from behind these before stepping out into the ‘public’ world of encounters between the sexes. Rushton’s work has a very cool and contemporary look, with the girls in rather chic black outfits, but although they are wearing pointe shoes, it is not particularly balletic. It’s rather a surprise that a work about going clubbing and sizing up the opposite sex is set to Bach - it looked like it should be accompanied by something rather more electronic. It was a popular piece, though rather too long, and some of the motifs became irritating - each character is introduced his particular set of moves, and the fifth repetition of the nerd doing his bottom wiggling routine was too many. The dancers looked a good deal happier and more assured in this than in the opening work.
The final work of the evening was Lila York’s Rapture, a work in the repertory of a number of companies in America but new here. It was by far the most popular piece of the evening, and was put across strongly by the company who looked as if they really relished it. York made a work (Sanctum) for BRB a year or two ago - pleasant enough, but not that memorable. Rapture was in a different class. Paul Farrell, who had also featured in Night Life, fizzed with energy, and all twenty dancers looked full of life and enthusiasm - a great contrast to the opening. The evening ended on a high note. The question of where Scottish Ballet goes from here though remains open - they looked so much happier the more they moved away from the classical.