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Scottish Ballet

'Agon', 'Othello', 'Room of Cooks', 'In Light and Shadow'

by Kate Snedeker

April 18, 2007 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland

Now that the Scottish Ballet has re-established its presence at the Edinburgh Festival,  there is a nearly eight month gap between repertory performances in Edinburgh.  This spring's program, an eclectic mix of classical, modern and theatrical, was a treat well worth waiting for.   In a program which included George Balanchine's "Agon", Peter Darrell's "Othello", Ashley Page's "Room of Cooks" and Krzysztof Pastor's "In Light and Shadow", the company's confidence and comfort in a wide range of styles was amply displayed.

"Agon" was last on display during the company's triumphant 2006 Edinburgh Festival appearance, and this evening's performance suggested that not all the cobwebs have been shaken off the production.   Eve Mutso and Erik Cavallari were standouts in the pivotal pas de deux, with Mutso rock solid in the penultimate supported 180 degree penchee. It remains inexplicable that Mutso is still a soloist when she consistently out-dances all the current principal dancers.  Cavallari was ever the supportive partner, but on his own he lacks a certain fluidity and ease of motion.  Within the corps, particularly the women, there was a noticeable lack of harmony and crispness.  The dancers were not helped by a sub par performance of Stravinsky's quirky score by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra under the normally sure baton of Richard Honner.

While "Agon" appeared a stretch for the company in this performance, Peter Darell's "Othello" couldn't have been a more perfect fit.  The company has been blessed with a number of exciting developing male talents, two of whom – Adam Blyde and Christopher Harrison – were featured as Iago and Cassio.  Both men, Blyde in particular, gave some of the finest dramatic and balletic performances I've seen from Scottish Ballet. Opposite them, Erik Cavallari was in his element as the doomed Othello.  Cavallari can seem a bit restrained in other ballets, but Darrell's dramatic mime and leaping choreography brought out an intensely dramatic and passionate side of him that we have not seen before.   Claire Robinson, the company's resident 'princess' was a perfect foil to him as the delicate, but feisty Desdemona.  Peter Farmer’s designs and the soaring Franz Liszt music were ideal partners for Darrell's choreography.  One problematic element though was the lack of any background to Othello in the program, leaving those of us with no knowledge of the story a bit bewildered for much of the ballet.

Something is definitely cooking in Ashley Page's "Room of Cooks", and it's not dinner.  On a darkened stage, a single spot reveals a couple, their intensity of their slow movements suggesting an unspoken intimacy.  The lights go out, flicking on to reveal the woman posed across a table from another man, a butcher knife stuck in the table between them.  We never find out exactly what has happened or perhaps, what nearly happened, but the tensions between the three characters are played out in this striking, stunningly danced piece.  The slow and sinuous choreography is some of Page's best; the erotic tension and repression in this three-way relationship revealed in every muscular twitch and ripple.  The themes of repression and freedom are subtly hinted at in the shades of John Morrell's costumes – the first man is in bright colors, while the couple (who appear with the knife between them), are in duller colors, the woman's ever so slightly brighter blue dress covered with a drab, brown apron.

While Page has had a tendency to rely on overly loud, atonal modern music, here he strikes gold with Jon Morrell's quirky, eclectic score, which manages to mix modern and musical in just the right portions. The package was a trio of outstanding performances by Diana Loosemore, Paul Liburd and Jarkko Lehmus, three of Page's favorite contemporary dance muses.  Lehmus frequently looks out of his comfort zone in more classical pieces, but in Page's choreography he soars, complimented by the un-paralleled contemporary talents of Liburd and Loosemore.

The evening concluded with the joyous, free-wheeling "In Light and Shadow".  Propelled by Bach's "Goldberg Variations" and "Third Orchestra Suite", the dancers criss-cross the stage in a series of variations ranging from solos to 15+ dancers.  In a program dominated by intimate ballets, it's a chance to see the variety and quality of the company dancers.  Standouts were Sophie Martin and, again, Adam Blyde in the slow, extended initial pas de deux, Luke Ahmet in the final pas de deux, and Gregory Dean and Christopher Harrison.  The company, despite being thin in the top ranks, has an overflow of young male talent, yet the young men often seem hidden away, only revealed in smaller roles and later casts whilst just a few men – especially Erik Cavallari – are cast in ballet after ballet. It would be wonderful to see the company – and visiting stagers – take more chances with younger male dancers in major roles as they did to great critical acclaim last summer with Harrison in "Afternoon of a Faun".  My wish list includes Gregory Dean opposite Eve Mutso in "Agon".  

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