DANCE / Journey of a kilted jilter

CHASING unattainable dreams in exotic settings. This is the stuff of Romantic ballets such as La Sylphide and Giselle. Matthew Bourne, artistic director of Adventures in Motion Pictures, has selected La Sylphide for the zany treatment he gave The Nutcracker, a recent smash hit. In Highland Fling, the reworked title for the Scottish ballet, Bourne keeps the original story, but slaps it about with irreverent wit. James, a crofter, is transformed into a kilt-wearing, drug-abusing, jobless welder who is lured from his wedding by a sylphide (or sprite). With not so much as a nod in the direction of his jilted bride, he tries to possess the sprite as enthusiastically as a bag of Ecstasy.

The first act is set in James's flat on a working-class Glasgow estate. It may be exotic to James - there is enough tartan wallpaper to cover the country - but not to his friends, who decide to purge the place of beer cans and dirty washing in time for James's big day. As a character, James (Scott Ambler) is a bit of mess. So too is Act 1. The work was intended for small-scale venues, hence its appearance last week in the tiny Lilian Baylis studio theatre. But by the time Bourne's creative juices had stopped flowing, it could have filled a bigger stage. Sixties girls, including a tart in micro-mini, and boys in nerdish tartan suits had to cram themselves into mighty set-pieces of fast, foot-flying dance. Those in the front row found themselves with feather dusters up their noses. The rest of us were swamped by undistilled ideas that made a persuasive case for less being more.

As in Romantic ballets, the second act is supposedly ethereal. Here the twinkling Glasgow skyline at dusk provides relief from the tartan, if nothing else. Enter the sylphides, men and women in ragged dresses and ghoulish painted faces with Pierrot eyes. They assume exaggerated poses; hips jut out and arms reach for imaginary glasses of champagne. In this half, Bourne introduces a wonderful conceit: the corps becomes a Greek chorus that acts as James's spiritual guide. With arms crossed and hands fluttering like flags, the dancers urge James on in his pursuit of the sprite (a dainty Maxine Fone). When he clips her wings, and the life drains out of her, the chorus crumples in sympathy. Where the first act is a confusing and overbearing collage, the second half travels in a clear line, and rescues the work.

Scott Ambler as the hapless James is the star of the show. With a natural gift for comedy, he is a daffy, startled rabbit, whether slumped in a stupor at his stag night or scooping up the flowers the sylph tosses over her shoulder. He creates a character more acted upon than acting, which gives the climax an unexpected edge: he seems genuinely surprised that his actions have resulted in the loss of his ideal love as well as his bride.

Bourne has shown himself to be a fiend of footwork, creating elaborate phrases that move at the speed of light. Highland Fling is his most dancerly work, and defies past rebukes that his choreographic vocabulary is limited. If he cleans up the first act, he may well have another very funny hit on his hands.

Bourne formed AMP in 1988. Two years previously he was a dancer with Transitions, the professional training company run by the Laban Centre that specialises in short works by developing artists. The company is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a mixed programme that came to the Bloomsbury Theatre last week. The young dancers are as fresh as they are versatile, switching effortlessly from characters like the wallies in Mark Murphy's Blind Date to lyrical interpreters of Richard Alston's elegant Weep No More to Billie Holiday. They even look good being ugly in Santiago Sempere's Three Dancers for Shiva as they stamp flat feet and bob jelly-necks in convulsive jerks.

While the pieces are diverse, the tone in the second half is rather earnest. Murphy's Blind Date, set to Nick Cave, stands out because it is raucous fun. He turns the Cilla Black game show into a paradise for serial monogamists - the man goes for No 1 and Nos 2 and 3 - and releases the emotional tensions in a physical rough-and-tumble. The seducer seems to say: 'I'll balance on your hip if you'll balance on mine.' If these young dancers are the performers of tomorrow, there is a lot to look forward to.

'Highland Fling': Lilian Baylis Theatre (behind Sadler's Wells), EC1, 071-278-8916, to 28 May.

Suggested Topics


Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss