Review: MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps) / Emergence, Sadler’s Wells

Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016, Scottish Ballet return to Sadler’s Wells with the double bill MC 14/22 / Emergence by Angelin Preljocaj and Crystal Pite.

Preljocaj’s MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps) draws from the gospel of St Mark, Chapter 14, Verse 22, as Christ breaks bread and announces to his disciples: “Take, eat. This is my body”. Twelve male dancers represent the Apostles of Jesus and engage in a performance that explores the surrendering of the physical body through ritual washing, affection and cruelty. Revered for his provocative movement vocabulary, French choreographer and dancer Preljocaj brings the spiritual and carnal together in a celebration of the male form.

Expressionism, art, and design present themselves in tandem alongside Preljocaj’s choreography, and at times, MC 14/22 is visually stunning. Six tables are used throughout to create bold shapes and provide the company with a variation of levels. These stratum separate sequences of movement and help to guide the brotherhood, but also serve as devices with which to inflict pain. Sequences of domination create a sadomasochistic choreographic language, and movements are repeated in a sickening commitment to punishment.

MC 14/22 is difficult to watch, and the piece itself is inconsistent. Sequences are torn between Tedd Zahmal’s roaring soundscape and complete silences, which generate a turbulent pace. The dancers lurch backwards and forwards, and these breaks in the score are met with the slap of bare flesh on metal. Indeed, the physical and mental suffering of the ensemble are translated into the score, and its volume becomes painful at points, causing members of the audience to vacate the theatre. Also, movements tend to blur, and it becomes harder to distinguish choreographic phrases as the performance endures. This is a shame, as the use of design and physical expression grow stronger towards its conclusion.

The same cannot be said for Pite’s Emergence. Founded by Peter Darrell and Elizabeth West in 1957, the 38-strong Scottish Ballet is transformed into a hive that examines the hierarchical nature of a ballet company and emergent structures in nature. The latter is a common strategy found in many groups of animals such as colonies of ants, swarms of bees and flocks of birds. These structures are created when a large group of individuals respond to local stimuli, and when predators or forces of nature cause the collective body of individuals to move as one. In Emergence, the corps de ballet explore this synchrony with insect-like movement that echoes the swarm intelligence of bees.

Designed by Jay Gower Taylor, a nest has been built into the stage. An intricate hive shivers across a cloth backdrop, and a hole is carved into its middle. The ensemble perform with attack from the beginning, their arms bent at the elbow, and extended like feelers. They drag their fingers across the floor, and the friction creates a squeak that sounds as if they are communicating with one another.

Pite’s choreography appears sensory as limbs become an extension of taste, smell and sight. Legs buzz on pointe and digits splay, attached to hands that are no longer human. Design and dance operate as one as the movements of the company are accentuated by a drone-like score by composer Owen Belton, giving the piece a kaleidoscopic effect.

Emergence is intoxicating. Sequences are laced seamlessly, and each moment stings of current political and social issues. This double bill is a blend of two very different performances, the second of which is considerably more accomplished than the first.

MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps) / Emergence played at Sadler’s Wells until June 10.

Photo: Andy Ross

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