Works by Jorma Elo and Kenneth MacMillan
Dance at the Music Center
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Oct. 14-16, 2011 (part of the company’s U.S. tour)
Who knew? I did not. Most probably you did not, but Scotland is fielding a world-class ballet company with talented dancers from around the globe. Los Angeles has gotten to see the Scottish Ballet under the banner of the Gloria Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center program. The company’s last US tour was 25 years ago. Now it is back with a new artistic director, Ashley Page, a fresh look, and plenty of attitude. Credit has gone to Page for the company’s reinvigoration and ultramodern style.
The Scottish Ballet’s approach is crisp, angular, energetic, and precise. Their roots are definitely in classical ballet, but their spirit is thoroughly modern. The program opens with Jorma Elo‘s 2011 piece, “Kings 2 Ends.” It is set to a strange combination of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1 and electronically infused “Double Sextet” by Steve Reich. Though not en pointe, the dancers’ technique and perfectly arched feet require a second look to determine that there is not a toe-shoe in sight. The thrust of Elo’s musical selection is the manic drive behind each piece of music. His choreography reflects this strange musical combination. It is a combination of classical precision and modern angularity, frantically tied together by pulsating energy. There is not a contemplative moment. “Kings 2” is more dance about movement than dance about emotion or story. Jordan Tuinman’s assertive lighting dramatically adds to an overall sense of abstraction. Effective, but not involving, “Kings 2 Ends” I found enjoyable as half an evening’s entertainment, but am skeptical about how satisfying a full diet of such cool fare would be.
“Song of the Earth,” the work that fills the second half of the program, is rooted in emotion and loosely tells a story. It was choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan in 1965, and is performed en pointe, while still modern at its core. Set to Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” death weaves his way through the ups and downs of life. Death is seductive and inescapable. Mahler wrote this suite shortly after the death of his young daughter, but regrettably, although the music is infused with Mahler’s feelings, the emotional level on stage is not terribly different from that of the first piece. One outstanding exception is the exquisite Tomomi Sato. She is the young woman pursued by, and flirting with, the messenger of death, Victor Zarallo. Sato lives with different gravitational force than we mere mortals. It is not that she demonstrates astonishing leaps; rather it is the fact that this wisp seems to be borne on gentle breezes and shifting tides. Her range of emotion, while not exaggerated, is full and her technique faultless.
So now we know that there is such a company as the Scottish Ballet, would I return to see it? No question I would; perhaps the frenetic level and the cool tone would be different with other selections from their repertoire. The Scottish Ballet is certainly an interesting and accomplished company, my reservations notwithstanding.