Scottish Ballet's appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival are big occasions: they are both at home and on an international stage. This year, they unveiled a world premiere and their first performances of one of Kenneth MacMillan's best-loved works. The dancers rose triumphantly to these challenges.
The new Kings 2 Ends is Jorma Elo's first work for a British company. Born in Finland, Elo danced with Netherlands Dans Theater before building a career as a choreographer. Kings 2 Ends has hints of Jiri Kylian and William Forsythe. It opens with driving moves to Steve Reich's Double Sextet, then switches to jokier dances to Mozart's First Violin Concerto. Eve Mutso, in black leotard and tiara, moves sternly in silence, then swoops into the music. Elo responds to Reich, but he struggles to fill Mozart's phrases. The dancers bob their heads like chickens, or manipulate each other like puppets. Still, Elo shows them off as sleek, speedy performers.
MacMillan's Song of the Earth, a setting of Mahler's score, is both stripped-down and monumental. Dressed in simple costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis, the dancers love, rejoice and die, carried away by Adam Blyde's masked messenger of death. The lyrics come from Chinese poetry, linking the work to the eastern theme of this year's festival.
The ballet is technically demanding, but the music requires heartfelt simplicity. Scottish Ballet respond magnificently. There are a few touches of strain in the earlier movements but it is an ardent performance.
Sophie Martin is lovely as the central woman. In the final song, she freezes and looks behind her. For a moment, she's like a woman in a dark wood, who can't see what is waiting for her. MacMillan sends her on a winding journey across the stage, between other couples, at last alone. Martin dances with smooth, feminine line and a lack of artifice.
She is matched by Blyde's gentle messenger and Erik Cavallari's ardent man. Sian Edwards conducts a warm performance from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, with singers Katarina Karneus and Peter Wedd.
'Kings 2 Ends', Glasgow Theatre Royal (0844 871 764) 29 September to 1 October. This programme is at Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0844 412 4300) 3 to 4 November