Exploring social organisation in a double bill of playfulness, power and pain
The last time Angelin Preljoçaj's work was brought to the International Festival, we were offered live lambs on stage and a Stockhausen score of musical helicopters. The opening piece of Scottish Ballet's double bill – Preljoçaj's MC 14/22 (Ceci est mon corps) – might not be in that league of identifiable quirks but its impact is the same: unforgettable.
Preljoçaj has taken inspiration from 'The Last Supper' to create a banquet of male behaviour, from the tender to the sadistic, from warrior cruelty to playground bullying, images that undulate through seducing, repelling and terrorising. Down on the right, one man gently washes another, over on the left sharp intersecting lines are duct-taped to the stage, while the remaining eight male dancers are trapped in loculi between stacked tables, slowly waking and testing the boundaries of their confinement. Before long they pair off in extravagant tussles, flinging one another about like butchers tossing meat onto slabs, or efficiently manipulating each other's limbs, little mirror repetitions of Dr Frankensteins tinkering with their monsters.
Preljoçaj's take on Christ's suffering transforms a numb clichéd image into a shriek of humiliation. The duct-tape reappears, and a dancer is slowly swaddled in it, head, arm and legs bound – still as his freedom crumbles, he tries to recreate the same passage of open-limbed choreography over and over. Ted Zahmal's sound design has a pulse of horror running through it that underscores the final tribal leaps of faith the cast take beautifully.
Crystal Pite's vision of social organisation feels far less damning. In Emergence, Pite uses classical technique to draw lines between beehives and ballet corps. Alan Brodie's lighting makes an insectile cocoon of a lone dancer's body, that hatches into a duet of twisted limbs and inhuman angles, before a tunnel at the back of the stage burns bronze and the full charge begins.
There is an infectious buzz to the irregular uptake of movement flowing through the corps: a little shoulder shift passing from one dancer to another; the teeter of pointe shoes rattling across the stage. You feel their impenetrable solidarity in being part of a mass. But conflicts emerge here too, and in one darkly gleeful moment of gender power-play, a glamour-packed chorus line of women march, locked at the arms, chanting one to 11, towards incoming men, each of whom are repelled before their force.
It's a thought-provoking pairing, the blow of Preljoçaj's piece and the intriguing, teasing images of Pite's. Programming them in that order leaves the evening on a warm note, albeit a slightly more anti-climactic one than had they been the other way around.
Festival Theatre, run ended.