Dance Odysseys at the 2013 Edinburgh International Festival (4 stars)

This article is from 2013

Dance Odysseys

credit: Graham Wylie

An immersing four-day journey through dance

Sometimes it's nice to just dip your toe into the Edinburgh International Festival, other times it's fun to dive right in for full immersion. Happily last weekend's Scottish Ballet-led Dance Odysseys allowed audiences to do either, or indeed something in between. Comprising 11 theatrical shows and dance films – along with accompanying talks – the series connected classical masters to the future of choreographic talent.

There was definitely a bit of a journey going on around the Festival Theatre, with pieces presented in the studio, main space and foyer – part of the pre-show fun was traversing the back corridors, lined with signed posters of the old greats. After each studio show came a dance-digestive in the upstairs foyer; a quirky idea that allowed us to see the dance un-filtered by stage lighting. The bar area formed a fabulous backdrop to Kristen McNally's Foibles; little vignettes of late-night life, cutting glamour with awkward wiggles and lopes.

Contemporary Classics made the most of the studio's intimacy in Twyla Tharp's The Fugue, where an amplified stage created music out of the pats and drags on the dancers' shoes, the gentle pull of air from their clothes. Fast moves were repeated with underwater slowness, losing none of their power but being silenced by the drop in speed.

Jiří Kylián's 14'20" became a show-stealer, luring us in with android gloss to make way for something more intimate. Clean sexy solos evolved into duets, and as the dancers began to mirror each other, then slam shoulder to shoulder, it felt like they were driven by something overriding self-control.

At a single five o'clock slot on Saturday, the late afternoon hour provided the perfect foil for five short expressions of intimacy in Duets. Peter Darrell's Cheri simmered with barely-concealed passion beneath Edwardian cordiality. When Luciana Ravizzi stood en pointe for a long kiss you could practically feel the erotic tension channelled through her arched feet.

Contrasting radically was James Cousins' red-lit Jealousy, the light so phosphorescent it could have been boiling through the dancers' skin as they tightly coiled. Bethany Kingsley-Garner was full of pagan queenliness in Darrell's Five Rückert Songs, and in Helen Pickett's finale Trace, the absolute precision of the dance showed off both yearning curves and preening. As Katie Webb and Daniel Davidson paired up, we were left with a bit of a hint that as well as being lost in each other they might also be a little lost in themselves; coupledom brings out the ego as well as the heart.

Kenneth MacMillan's 1988 Sea of Troubles was paired in contrast with Christopher Hampson's elegant, playful Silhouette. The former whittled the tale of Hamlet into a sharp 40 minutes of turbulent emotions, courtly gesture and repeated symbols. There was a depth and intrigue – extreme leans, unusual curves – that brought out the otherworldly quality of the text. Austere as a Danish winter, it distilled the power of its source beautifully.

Hampson's Silhouette, too had a hard edge, although it melted as it progressed. At first Bethany Kingsley-Garner looked to have the strength of metal in her stiff tutu, but stately lines and classical grace gradually gave way to muscular ensemble pieces as the light changed from silver to butter to turquoise. Sliding panels revealed dancers in situ, like rabbits coming out of hats. The showcase of classics continued the following evening with Glen Tetley's avant garde, character-driven Pierrot lunaire; three commedia dell'arte characters coming together to Arnold Schoenberg's spoken-opera of the same name.

High on the agenda was original work, with the New Voices showcase of premieres presented three times during the weekend. Big on energy as well as creativity, they ranged from Helen Pickett's beguiling domestic four-hander The Room – glamorous facades masking out-of-control passions – to the rock-frantic Dark Full Ride by Martin Lawrance. This last was a workout for the eyes, quick patterns and flickering lines changing through Julia Wolfe's raucous drum solo score.

Scottish Ballet handed the baton over to Catalan choreographer and dancer Cesc Gelabert for the final Odyssey, and while refined and sophisticated, it was perhaps not quite the grand finale crowds were hoping for. Gelabert's 1996 reconstruction of Gerhard Bohner's Im (Goldenen) Schnitt I saw him dressed in suit and overcoat – swooshing like silk as he span – responding to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier Book I in subtle motions and instinct-driven patterns. Gelabert was majestic and beautiful; stalking, skating, bisecting the geometric lines laid out on stage. But sometimes the small details of the piece – his undulating hands for instance – were drowned on the Festival Theatre's main stage, miles away from our eyes. As many of the pared-down close-up pieces showed earlier in the weekend, when it comes to staging, bigger isn't always better.

Festival Theatre, 529 6000, run ended.

Dance Odysseys

  • 4 stars

This festival within a festival celebrates the breadth of ballet from classic to contemporary. Featuring a diverse mixture of world premières, including work from Scottish Ballet, Scottish Dance Theatre and Gelabert Azzopardi Companyia de Dansa.