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Scottish Dance Theatre

'A Touch of Red', 'My Sweet Little Fur', 'Love Games', 'Palova's Dogs'

by David Mead

March 10, 2012-- The Place, London, UK

In their final London season with Janet Smith as Artistic Director, Scottish Dance Theatre presented a diverse programme that emphasised the theatrical and showed off the multiple talents of her excellent company.

Highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Rachel Lopez de la Nieta’s “Pavlova’s Dogs”, a 40-minute look at the humour you can find in the absurdity of human behaviour. Essentially it’s an experiment in how we watch dance, inspired, as you might guess, by Pavlov’s theory and the choreographer’s interest in the humour to be found in the absurdity of human behaviour.

Four women wearing what looked like circa 1970 school dresses repeat a phrase. Seated at a table and speaking directly to the audience, Tony Fitzgibbons puts a story to matters, which ratchets up a notch with each telling. Alongside him, fellow dancer Joan Clevillé describes the body in scientific terms. Initial notions of beauty are slowly eroded by Fitzgibbons’ increasingly dark storytelling, and two men wearing huge floppy bunny ears and who were sometimes dressed in lurid blue suits that made them look remarkably like yeti that had suffered some appalling accident, and who liberally applied lipstick and dry ice to the ladies, the latter making it look like their head or feet were smouldering.

The work definitely raises interesting questions of perception, and why we see things in any particular way, but for the most part its appeal lies in the humour. Fitzgibbons in particular hit all the right buttons. He had absolute mastery of the text, and soon had the audience laughing on cue.

The first half of the evening was given over to a solo by Israeli choreographer Idan Cohen alongside two shorter works that showed off some of the choreographic talent in the company. Best of these was Joan Clevillé’s “Love Games”. The way he showed couples trying to deal with situations was absolutely true to life. I would guess most of the audience recognised at least some of what happened in front of them. Among the highlights was a beautifully expressive solo from the gifted Solène Weinachter. When not to the fore, the dancers sat on a large rug, sometimes eating from a box of cornflakes. At one point one of them dons a knight’s helmet and eats through the visor. Don’t ask why, but it summed up nicely the light, whimsical and quite engaging nature of the piece.

There were more references to love and relationships in Nicole Guarino’s “A Touch of Red”. It had the sense of a couple (Fitzgibbons and Guarino) on a night in. The opening section reminded me of the way a couple might fidget or gently play with each other on the sofa in front of not particularly interesting television. Good use is also made of a table and two chairs, around which much of the later action is centred.

Last successful was Idan Cohen’s “My Sweet Little Fur”, a solo that presents a dialogue between a man and the hounds residing in him. The programme reckoned it aroused “questions of personal identity and cultural behaviour opposite animalistic ones.” Joan Clevillé is a powerful dancer, but it was all far too obvious with lots of overt scratching, rolling, tail-chasing and barking, not to mention what sounded like howling wolves in the music. Clevillé did what he could with it, but methinks a trip to the vet is called for.

Smith leaves this summer to lead the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, but she leaves the company in rare health. Incoming director Fleur Darkin is lucky indeed.

Scottish Dance Theatre continue on tour throughout Scotland in March, April and May, and will then be appearing at the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC in June. See for full listings.

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