Hip-hop brings the spirit of street-dance re­bel­lion to clas­si­cal bal­let

Dance Scot­tish Dance Theatre

The Guardian - - THE CRITICS JOURNAL - Wild, con­vul­sive … TuTuMucky chore­ographed by Bo­tis Seva Photo: Brian Hart­ley Ju­dith Mack­rell

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

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