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Edinburgh International Festival

Scottish Ballet

'Agon’, ‘Afternoon of a Faun’, ‘Two Pieces for Het’, ‘In Light and Shadow’

by Kate Snedeker

August 19, 2006 -- The Edinburgh Playhouse

Opening night may have had a shaky start, but there were no problems when the Scottish Ballet took the stage for the second performance of their Festival run.  For Saturday night, “Agon”, “Two Dances for HET” and “In Light and Shadow” were danced by the same casts, while a new pair made their debut in Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun”.

In the early evening “Discussions with Artists” presentation, critic Mary Brennan led Scottish Ballet artistic director Ashley Page and conductor Nicholas Kok in a lively discussion about the company, the festival repertoire and the music.  As Kok revealed, one of the challenges lay in the tricky and diverse scores, none of which were previously familiar to the Scottish Opera Orchestra.  A few cracks showed on Friday night, but a day later both musicians and dancers returned with a near flawless performance.

The ingenuity of Balanchine’s choreography is even more astonishing on second look, as is the vastly improved quality of the Scottish Ballet male contingent.   It was hard to believe these were the same dancers that I saw just months ago during the spring repertory season, with Gregory Dean, Christopher Harrison and Luke Ahmet in particular demonstrating a new-found poise and power. 

Eve Mutso and Erik Cavallari’s sinuous pas de deux was again the centerpiece of “Agon”, Mutso unfolding into a stunning 180 penchée supported by only one of Cavallari’s hands as he lay on the ground beside her.   The male quartet, including the above mentioned Harrison and Dean, looked impressive in the trademark heel arabesques.

In the only cast change between evenings, Vassilissa Levtonova and Paul Liburd debuted in Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun”.  While no fault could be found with their approach to the roles, the performance didn’t have the same spellbinding quality as that of Christopher Harrison and Luisa Rocco’s the previous night.  Liburd’s fluid, powerful dancing would seem to be perfectly suited to the role, but while he has the needed intensity, here his chiseled muscularity was distracting, and his contemporary-flavoured style more pantherine than faun-like.  Robbins’ faun requires a delicacy and classical style that are not Liburd’s forte, but he would seem a match made in heaven for Diaghilev’s original.

 “Two Dances for HET” explores a more settled, matured love.  In Erik Cavallari and Claire Robinson, we see a couple who expresses their emotions in unhurried exploration and close contact.  Cavallari starts off the first section by circling round his partner, seemingly cajoling her to join him.  She relents, joining him in an intense, but understated pas de deux.  In the second section, Arvo Pärt’s delicate, almost mournful music sets the tone for a duet full of understated sensuality.   Each movement is considered yet flowing.  As the music fades to nothing, the couple stands side-by-side, heads dropping to each other’s shoulders.

Bach and ballet, in the guise of Krzysztof Pastor’s “In Light and Shadow”, ended the evening on a high note.   Patricia Hines and Adam Blyde danced the expressive “Aria” on a dimly lit stage.  The end of their pas de deux was heralded by the silent appearance of the 16 Overture dancers.  Hines and Blyde stepped backwards through the lines of appearing dancers, sweeping an arm around their heads as if to pull a curtain closed around them.  They seemed to be retreating into the shadows, leaving the light for these new dancers.

Pastor’s choreography adds unique flourishes and cheeky eroticism to classical steps.  Tendus end with swiveling hips; arms go up to high fifth only to flutter in the air. And the finale ends with a quick wiggle of the hips as the music ends.  It’s a perfect way to highlight the classical and contemporary talents within the company. 

Here the men were the eye catchers, especially Gregory Dean and Christopher Harrison.  Luke Ahmet, however, was the shining light “In Light and Shadow”.  Ahmet is  blessed with a lithe, elegantly proportioned body, and his performance with pantherine flow had unexpected beauty.   I look forward to seeing more of him in future Scottish Ballet visits to Edinburgh.

My only regret was not to have seen the newest member of the company, Aussie Tama Barry, and I hope he’ll be featured in future performances.

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