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Scottish Ballet

'Kings 2 Ends', 'Song of the Earth'

by David Mead

November 3, 2011 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

Jorma Elo’s “Kings 2 Ends” is an idiosyncratic piece typical of the Finnish choreographer, these days much in demand across Europe and America. Created for the company earlier this year, and premiered at the Edinburgh Festival, it is full of his usual mix of sometimes true to the form and sometimes subverted classical ballet, and eccentric and eclectic dance. In this case, the latter includes swimming strokes; a variety of strange, twitching, jerky walks, one of which reminded me of Mrs. Overall, Julie Walters’ decrepit cleaner from French and Saunders’ “Acorn Antiques”, but with none of the humour; and lots of quizzical looks at each other.

Those sections where Elo focuses on moving to music are generally most pleasing. He picks up on the driving nature of Steve Reich’s “Double Sextet”, always busying things along. ‘Expect the unexpected’ seems to be the motto, as he packs in any number of entrances and exits, turns and leaps, and deftly crafts and dismantles formations including, at one point, having the dancers in a diagonal line not unlike Balanchine’s “Symphony in Three Movements”. When he switches to Mozart’s “Violin Concerto No.1” the dance reflects the more subtle nuances humour and emotions embedded in the music, even if the choreographic language is sometimes a little limited.

The problems start when the music stops and, indeed, at the beginning before it even strikes up. Visually the opening bodes well. Dancers stand at the back of a vast open stage while a quirky, rapid solo that sets the movement vocabulary is danced in silence. But it does go on. And then there are the silences between the Reich and Mozart, when Elo indulges in a collage of unconnected moments and ideas that seem to have been inspired by child-like humour. It certainly has little to do with what goes before or after and at times just looks plain silly.

Although made 46 years ago, Kenneth MacMillan’s “Song of the Earth” is also new to the company. In some ways it is a much simpler work than “Kings 2 Ends”, yet while the dancers undoubtedly had the steps, they struggled to capture fully the essence of the work, and it’s many and various shades. Christopher Harrison was nicely slight and somewhat understated as the Messenger of Death, no more menacing than his companions. This was a portrayal preferred by MacMillan, although Harrison never really gave any sense that he alone knew where things were leading. As the outsider, Sophie Martin exuded a perfect sense of loneliness and of not quite belonging in the reflective second song “Autumn Solitude” before finding love in the shape of Erik Cavallari. But it was only in the deeply moving conclusion, as the threesome walk forwards, hands linked and in slow motion, in reality moving towards us, yet equally with a sense of moving away from us into eternity, that the real depth in the work showed through.

Despite the reservations, Ashley Page is leaving Scottish Ballet in good shape, and with a very impressive repertory that ranges from the subtle classicism of Ashton, through the depth of MacMillan to more contemporary works by the likes of Elo and Richard Alston. Page is to be succeeded in August 2012 by Christopher Hampson. Whether his exciting, forward-looking vision for the company will continue, or whether it returns to a safer path, remains to be seen.

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