Hip-hop brings the spirit of street-dance rebellion to classical ballet
Dance Scottish Dance Theatre
The Place, London
Ever since Isadora Duncan denounced ballet as sterile gymnastics, a long line of choreographers have used her metaphor, deploying images of regimented classical dancers to flag up themes of conformity and restraint. Botis Seva is the latest. In TuTuMucky, his first piece for Scottish Dance Theatre, the radical hip-hop choreographer works hard to charge that idea with a brooding, dystopian logic of his own.
The work opens to a world of dark shadows and ominous industrial noise that feel very far from a ballet studio. Its nine dancers are dressed in dirty, rustcoloured tutus, and as they respond with robotic obedience to the counts of an unseen ballet master. They look like the lost echo of a company, abandoned to a meaningless routine.
When the pulse of Torben Lars Sylvest’s music begins to change, a spirit of rebellion stirs. The dancers’ rigidly classical demeanour becomes convulsed with wild spasms, as if their bodies are giving birth to a new language – primitive, but instilled with the possibility of freedom.
Seva has the potential to be a true choreographic original. He plays with strange, slithery, creaturely moves and develops a rough-hewn variant of street dance that the company executes with a hypnotic intensity. But when the dancers suddenly revert back to their former balletic subservience, the logic of the piece seems forced. There’s no intimation of who is commanding the dancers or why they’re submitting. Or why ballet itself should be invested with such a negative symbolic power.
Anton Lachky’s Dreamers is another work about liberation. This one, however, is infused with a more whimsically surreal vein of humour. Driven by an exuberant playlist of Bach, Haydn, Chopin and other classical favourites, the nine men and women break free of their strict opening lineup to dance out their inner desires and fantasies.
Lachky’s movement has an entertainingly cartoon quality. Contorted grimaces, jaggedly extreme poses and brazen displays of virtuosity signal the release of the dancers’ collective subconscious. There’s a quicksilver efficiency in the way Lachky moves his cast around the stage, especially when they take it in turns to jostle for control of the group. But, as engagingly committed as Scottish Dance Theatre are to their material, as fleetly as the work speeds along, Dreamers is not as funny as it thinks it is. Its particular brand of charm is exhausted before the work is done. TuTuMucky is at Zoo Southside, Edinburgh, 16-20 August. Box office: 0131-662 6892. There no tour dates set for Dreamers. We tend to think of Debussy’s symbolist tragedy primarily as a hermetic work, examining half-voiced, festering emotions in an aristocratic world remote from the mundane. But are we right to do so? And if not, then what is the external reality that its protagonists so carefully seek to avoid? These are some of the questions posed by Michael Boyd’s new staging, a striking achievement that blends tradition with innovation to shed fresh light on the opera’s complexities.
Boyd’s approach to the narrative is straightforward, avoiding the psychoanalytic or absurdist glosses that some have foisted on the work of late. Yet at the same time, he opens up its frame of reference. The drama plays itself out not in seclusion, but in a functioning royal court where ritual constricts emotion. Jonathan McGovern’s Pelléas has to kneel in frustrated deference before Brian BannatyneScott’s Arkel, when official permission to visit his dying friend Marcellus is refused. Later, when he sneaks into the garden, tracked by Paul Gay’s Golaud, to watch Andrea Carroll’s Mélisande comb her hair, it’s clear that both men have surreptitiously absented themselves from some grand formal occasion.
Emotion in this hierarchical world is equated with lingering glances that turn increasingly voyeuristic, as Pelléas begins spying on Mélisande through the transparent perspex screens that form the walls of the theatre. William Davies’s Yniold, meanwhile, watches everything with uncomprehending curiosity, and his life will eventually be poisoned by