Scottish Ballet presents a series of entrancing works by pioneering choreographers Christopher Bruce, Jirí Kylián and Twyla Tharp. Each piece is remarkable in its own right, but when viewed together they offer quite a glorious vision of contemporary dance in the last decade.
Bruce’s Shift, an intricate and upbeat work inspired by workers in 1940s armament factories, suggests a society on the brink of change. A real sense of joyful and relentless forward motion drives choreography that delivers moments of quite astonishing technical prowess with a casual brilliance. The next offering, Fugue, is a marvel well-suited to the stark and expectant space of the Festival Theatre’s Studio Stage. In Twyla Tharp’s unostentatious piece, Daniel Davidson, Laura Kinross and Sophie Laplane do not dance to music, but rather to a soundtrack of their own making. The percussion of frantic footfalls, the self-perpetuated beat of their breaths and racing pulses plays out in a sort of infinite loop as their very movements bring the score they move to into existence. Dressed in androgynous office wear (quite in opposition to Bruce’s perky workforce) they conjure thoughts of hive-like skyscrapers populated by anonymous drones whose days are lived out in mechanistic routine, now driven to frantic competition. Of course, that’s just one interpretation. This might well be a game, or a punishment, or simply a rehearsal without an orchestra. Above all, it stands as a testament to the exertion and endurance of the act itself, forging for us a bizarre and intimate connection to the dancers’ bodies that deepens our response to the subsequent work.
Nevertheless, at the opening of Jiri Kylián’s 14´20˝ , I still had my reservations. Bare-chested Victor Zarallo and the casually dressed Brenda Lee Grech initially seem oddly adrift from each other, a state of play which, in turn, detaches them from the audience. To a discomforting score of distorted German and French voices, Grech shivers with what seem like tics and seizures, technically magnificent but again, a little alienating. It is the closing of the distance between the pair which gives 14’20” all its simple and devastating beauty. As I see it, Kylián plays radically with our restrictive perceptions of gender roles, and the meanings held by male and female bodies. When Webb undresses to ‘match’ Zarallo, it is a multifaceted act – an autonomous gesture neither submissive nor gratuitous, a natural and instinctive kind of twinning. Their duet never becomes the typical power struggle often seen in male-female pairings, even as each of them experience jarring, expertly-crafted moments of exhaustion, disgust and fear of the other, their shadows fuse on the back wall in promising realisation of their eventual symbiosis. Though their nakedness could have given the duet a crude erotic charge, what emerges is a study in balance and trust where an almost familial tenderness subsumes the frankness of physical desire. Enriched by the inclusion of Kylián’s quite wonderful film Silent Cries, a transportive solo set to Debussy’s ‘Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun’, Contemporary Classics really is an hour of delights.
Contemporary Classics is playing at the Festival Theatre as part of the Edinburgh International Festival until 19 August. For more information and tickets, please see the Edinburgh International Festival Website.