Sunday, 11 June 2017

Scottish Ballet - Emergence and MC 14/22

Scottish Ballet Emergence
Photo Andy Ross
© 2017 Scottish Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with kind permission of the company

Scottish Ballet, MC 14/22 (ceci est mon corps) and Emergence, Sadler's Wells. 10 June 2017, 19:30

I recently asked Christopher Hampson why he was content for Scottish Ballet to bring full-length ballets like his own Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel, Peter Darrell's The Nutcracker and David Dawson's Swan Lake that tour Scotland to the North of England but never to London.  He replied that he wanted the capital to see the sort of works that distinguish Scottish Ballet.

I did not understand his reply at first because it seemed to me that those ballets are flagship works. They attract crowds night after night in all the cities they visit. But then I reflected upon the history of Scottish Ballet. I reminded myself what it was like when I first knew it.  I think the first work I saw was Peter Darrell's Mods and Rockers which was performed to the music of The Beatles.  I also remember The Houseparty from the same era which was one of the first ballets to have been created especially for television. Scottish Ballet was known as Western Theatre Ballet in those days. It was not a national company nor even a regional one for the West of England. It attracted audiences because it was innovative and adventurous. One of its most daring early works (which I never saw because it was well before my time) was A Wedding Present.  According to the Peter Darrell Trust website, that work explored the impact on a marriage of a bridegroom's love for another man a full 5 years before the Sexual Offences Act 1967.  So it is entirely consistent with the company's tradition that it should bring to London in its diamond jubilee year works by Angelin Preljocaj and Crystal Pite.

Preljocaj's MC 14/22 (ceci est mon corps) came first.  I have not yet been able to work out the significance of "MC 14/22" but "ceci est mon corps" means "this is my body". They are the words that the vicar utters when distributing the host to his congregation at Holy Communion. Christians celebrate that sacrament in memory of Jesus's last supper with his disciples which most of us imagine from the painting in Milan by Leonardo da Vinci. That much was easy enough to follow because there were 12 dancers (though no Christ), a number of metal tables that were laid out as one long table at one point and a chant that sounded a little like Κύριε, ἐλέησον.

But this was in no sense a religious work.  The Kyrie was muffled and that muffling appeared to be paralleled later when one of the dancers used sticky tape to hobble the movements of another.  The programme describes the work as "a meeting of the spiritual and the carnal" and refers to the dancers as "Apostles of Movement". It opens with three dancers. One on stage left appearing to wash or massage the body of the other.  A third at stage right applying masking tape to the floor.  Slowly an image of bodies on tables begins to glow. The dancers, all male, appear on stage, one checking the body of the other. At various times they appear to fight.  At other times they show affection. Much of the action takes place in silence. The composer, Tedd Zahmal refers to his work as a "soundscape" rather than a score. Sound, when it comes, is deafening. One bout sounds like a gunfight. Another like a steelwork's rolling mill.

This work is to be appreciated rather than to be liked.  One viewing is probably not enough to do justice to it. I will have to see this work several times to come to terms with it. But even at the superficial level of a single viewing, it was an enthralling piece and one to be admired.

Emergence followed after the interval.  This was an elegant work and one that was much easier to follow. For a start. there was a score by Owen Belton.  There were female dancers as well as males with the women spending a lot of time on pointe.  The clue to understanding the ballet for me was that one of the characters is called "Bee-Man". A striking, swirling circular backcloth with an aperture and some very delicate lighting gave the impression of the interior of a hive or anthill. The ballet was arranged in the following movements:
The solos were punctuated by the ensemble.  There were some powerful moments such as the scene at the start of the trailer when the females arranged in a single file step out from stage left and appear to absorb the rush of oncoming men as a sea wall resists a storm.

This double bill received loud and sustained applause.  It was a performance that the company's founders, Elizabeth West and Peter Darrell, would have relished.  I don't know how many other companies could have carried off an evening like this.  I can count on one hand the companies that would even try.  By any measure, Scottish Ballet is magnificent.

Yesterday the London entertainment and hospitality industries raised money for the victims of the Manchester and London outrages. Hampson, who like me comes from Manchester, appeared on stage at the start of the show to announce donations by Sadler's Wells and to appeal for donations from the audience. The ushers had collecting boxes at the end of the show and judging by the sound of the rattling they must have received a lot of contributions.

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