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Edinburgh International Festival 2005

Scottish Ballet - 'Apollo,' 'Episodes,' 'Rubies'

by Kate Snedeker

August 26, 2005 -- Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland

On Friday, the Scottish Ballet returned to the Edinburgh Festival after an absence of nearly two decades with a solid, if not spectacular, Balanchine programme. The trio of ballets, all staged by former New York City Ballet dancer Patricia Neary, represent nearly forty years of Balanchine's choreographic career, from the very early "Apollo" (1928) to "Episodes" (1959) and the later "Rubies", a part of the full length ballet "Jewels" (1967). Tackling such an ambitious programme on the International Festival stage was a daring step for the Scottish Ballet, but one that has mostly paid off.

Originally choreographed for the Ballets Russes, the neo-classical "Apollo" is one of Balanchine's earliest ballets, and his first major collaboration with the composer Igor Stravinsky. The ballet begins with the birth of the young sun god Apollo, and follows his capers with the three muses, Terpsichore, Polyhymnia and Calliope.

Spinning out of his swaddling cloth in a flurry of pirouettes, Erik Cavallari was a physically appealing and kinetic Apollo, but his restrained performance suggested that he was still at the stage of focusing on the steps, and working on putting them together in a cohesive whole. Thus the powerful stage presence that Apollo needs was not present. The three muses, Eve Mutso, Soon Ja Lee and Claire Robinson, also had an unfinished quality to their dancing, with steps and shapes not fully defined. Yet, if the dancers can develop into the roles over time as well as they have previously with "The Four Temperaments," the best is definitely yet to come.

The ballet also was not ideally suited to the vastness of the Playhouse, the intimate details and contrast of the bodies against the blue backdrop blurred in the distance between audience and dancers. Most unfortunate was the near invisibility of the famous pose of the three muses in arabesque, supported by Apollo, due both to the angle between audience & stage and the positioning of the dancers. The ballet should find more suitable settings when the company goes on tour to smaller theatres in the fall.

"Episodes," which followed, is the remaining part of a ballet that combined the choreographic talents of Balanchine and fellow dance legend, Martha Graham, and the music of Anton Webern. Today, only Balanchine's portions are performed, the first section, "Symphony, Opus 21," typical of his 'leotard ballets.' With the women in black, belted leotards and the men in black tights and white tops, there is nothing to draw the eye from the angular steps and from the men's deft manipulations of the women. In "Symphony," as well as the final two sections, "Concerto" and "Ricercata," the company oozed confidence and power. Where there might not have been total synchronization in arms, there was a noticeable and effective unity of style and focus. Very impressive was Paul Liburd in the "Ricercata," who with his years in the Rambert Dance Company seems well suited to the more neo-classical steps and accents that are typical of Balanchine's choreography.

A complete contrast from the rest of the ballet, the second section, set to 5 Pieces, "Opus 10," is a off-beat, wry pas de deux. The woman's white leotard stands out in the spotlight while the man's full black unitard blends with the shadows. Balanchine plays with this contrast of light and dark, male and female, wrapping his dancers around each other; at one point the woman is flipped upside down, her bent legs sticking out above her partner's head. As the woman, Eve Mutso demonstrated the flexibility, strength and precision that made her the standout of the evening.

Though a crowd pleaser, the glittering "Rubies" was more a demonstration of where the company can go, not of its current level. For reasons probably either financial and/or technical, the company chose to perform the ballet without the set -- Karinska's ruby red, fake-jewel encrusted tunics and dresses a slightly odd contrast with the plain backdrop.

The corps was sprightly, but the men didn't look completely convincing in the jogging steps, which must be done without the slightest self consciousness so as to not look 'cutesy', nor were they always up to the technical demands. However, like the female corps, they continue to improve with every performance. It was an enjoyable finale for the evening -- while it was proof the company is ready for the challenges of Balanchine, it also reveals where there is still is much work to be done, notably in the male contigent.

Nicholas Kok conducted the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, with Simon Crawford playing the solo piano section of Stravinky's score for "Rubies."

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