An evening of contemporary classics
This article is from 2011.
For a programme dominated by music from the great canon of composers, the opening to Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo’s Kings 2 Ends, a silent dynamic solo, comes as a surprise. But it’s curiously pleasing. It lets the clean stretched lines of the dance speak for themselves – a hint of what is to come in this double bill from Scottish Ballet, characterised by its marriage of the contemporary and the classical and its absence of fuss in the presentation.
Kings 2 Ends becomes a sort of double bill within the double bill, its first movement set to the rhythmic score of Steve Reich’s Double Sextet. Dressed in black with flashes of sparkle in their hair, soloists are counterpointed by a chorus of dancers, while classical poise and balletic lifts provide the perfect base for Elo’s contemporary touches – a quick wriggle of the wrist here or scurry of the feet there.
The playful edge continues into Mozart’s first violin concerto (with solo violinist James Clark). Here the dancers take on a quality that is at times insect or bird-like in the ripples of their hands or necks, while the concerto’s showy flourishes lend themselves well to Elo’s quick fluid passages. But it’s the Adagio that is the highlight. A bare white stage bathed in Jordan Tuinman’s light shifting from violet to exotic red seems like a blank sheet of paper for the dance to be written on in fragile soft duets that are beguiling in their beauty.
While Elo’s piece is a delight to watch, the real drama of the evening comes from the revival of Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth. Mahler’s symphonic song cycle (sung in German by tenor Peter Wedd and mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus) is a homage to the renewal of life through nature’s cycle, and in keeping with the festival’s Asian theme is based on free translations of Chinese poetry from the T’ang dynasty. The narrative MacMillan has created is slight - a messenger of death in half-mask follows a man and a woman, finally claiming the man, only to bring him back to her in his own deathly half-mask – but it is enough to stop the abstractness of the piece from being alienating.
Adam Blyde’s messenger is lithe and sprightly while Sophie Martin as the woman conjures up all the grace of the natural world in her swan-like arms, her gazelle walk. Both Mahler’s cycle and MacMillan’s choreography echo the Chinese themes from the original poems, the dancers responding to pentatonic hints in the music with bent knees, wrists tilted like outstretched peonies. Its finest moments are in its final pas de trois where man, woman and messenger become entwined in a harmonious knot of limbs.
Reviving this piece by a celebrated and now deceased choreographer seems a fitting tribute to its message – that death is not the end, either for the world around us or for the legacy we leave behind.
Edinburgh Playhouse, 473 2000, until Sun 28 Aug, 7.30pm, £12–£44