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Scottish Ballet

'Episodes,' 'Middlesexgorge,' 'Suite from Artifact'

by Kate Snedeker

March 30, 2006 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Returning to the Festival Theatre just months after entertaining Edinburgh ballet fans with a new "Cinderella", the Scottish Ballet has erased any notions of fairy tales and tutus with a trio of edgy ballets. In George Balanchine's "Episodes", Stephen Petronio's "Middlesexgorge" and William Forsythe's "Suite From Artifact", the company shows off its new image—sleek, powerful and unafraid. It's a program which deftly disguises any weaknesses and lets the company trumpet how far it's come in the last few years.

The most 'traditional' of the evening's offerings, "Episodes", set to a score by Anton Webern, entered Scottish Ballet's repertory for the 2005 Edinburgh Festival. Six months later, the ballet is once again on an Edinburgh stage, this time—like the company itself—cleaner, sharper and sleeker. Balanchine's choreography demands a fine-tuned balance between flow and sharp accentuation, but the dancers met the challenge with a cool confidence. Supported by a cohesive corps, the three lead couples all were in top form, but the finest performance came in the '5 Pieces, Opus 10' pas de deux, with Robert Doherty and Eve Mutso. Dressed in stark white and illuminated by a lone spot, Mutso oozed her way through a contortionistic pas de deux with her black-clad, near invisible partner. Though still a soloist, she is without a doubt the 'prima ballerina' of this company, a fact made clear by this powerful performance.

Best known as the ballet with the bare bums, "Middlesexgorge" is chance to see Scottish Ballet in a decidedly high-octane, contemporary mode. There is a certain refreshing feeling about the piece's non-stop power and unabashed, cool eroticism. And without a doubt, it is well-suited to displaying the company's collection of fine contemporary talents, especially Paul Liburd, Patricia Hines, Martina Fioroso and Jarko Lehmus. But Petronio seems to have fallen into the trap of thinking that the louder the score, the more powerful the dancing. He would do well to remember that some of the most powerful pieces of dance, like those brought to use by choreographers like Balanchine and Mark Morris, are done in complete silence. And, in fact, "Middlesexgorge" is strongest in the quieter, percussive sections where the music enhances the dance instead of distracting from it.

In "Suite From Artifact", which William Forsythe restaged for Scottish Ballet in 2004, the company has found its signature piece. In its blend of classical and modern, the ballet epitomizes the new face of Scottish Ballet. It's also a smashing way to end an evening. From the lines of unitard-clad ballerinas sweeping their legs through the simple tendus to the syncopated clapping and the stunningly lit pas de deux, the piece has a breezy, refreshing energy with ever-changing patterns that catch the eye. The grand finale, with rows of dancers moving their arms in synchronization, then beckoning the curtain downwards, was one of Scottish Ballet's finest moments. This was power, talent, and most of all confidence—confidence that said, "Scottish Ballet has arrived".

Buoyed by this uplifting ending to the evening, one hopes that Scottish Ballet will continue this forward momentum. The three ballets showcased a company full of talent and, quite pleasingly, a visible improvement in the male corps. However, with the departure of the Vivancos brothers and the announcement of an ambitious 2006 Edinburgh Festival program, the company needs to bolster its top male talent. A smaller, streamlined company is not a bad thing by any means, but resting so much on one or a very few dancers, as the company did with Eva Mutso for the 2005 Festival, is risky business.

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