Bonachela Dance Company, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Scottish Ballet, Sadler's Wells, London
For real razzle-dazzle forget fashionable Rafael and catch up with Scottish Ballet
Sunday 04 October 2009
While it would be nice to believe that talent always rises to the top, the finger of fate is more capricious. You know how it goes. You see a person being lauded, or landing a great new job, and wonder what others see in them that you don't.
I have a blank spot about the choreographer Rafael Bonachela. Ten years ago he was just another Rambert Dancer, a bullet-headed compact of speeding muscle. Then he began making dances for Kylie Minogue. Next minute he was forming his own troupe, snaffling Rambert's best to join him, and now he commutes between Britain and Australia directing Sydney Dance Company as well. Yet his creations have always left this writer cold, at best indifferent. They're modish, punchy, big on contact improvisation, but unmusical, unlovely, over-earnest.
To judge by the first night of his latest work, though, Bonachela knows how to pull a crowd (the Queen Elizabeth Hall was heaving). The Land of Yes and the Land of No – the pre-echo of David Hare's new political play is surely accidental – promised to be the work where Bonachela finally let in a warming glimmer of human feeling. It was not to be.
The work's theme is the prohibition of signs: road signs, door signs, directions that either beckon or repel. It's divided into two equal parts, yet I struggled to discern a positive spin in the first half, and a no-you-don't element in the second. Perhaps that would have been too easy. What emerges is a lot of striding about (perhaps we are in a pedestrian precinct?) and some po-faced tangling. At one point there's a mildly engaging duet during which the couple never lose hold of each others' hands, but this looked like a – fairly desperate – formal device that had little connection with the theme. The commissioned score, by Ezio Bosso, hacks away at the coalface of what he calls "neo-minimalism", before erupting in incongruous gushes of melodic nostalgia. The set – yawn – is a scaffold of neon strips that flicker on and off to form doorways. And this mind-numbing essay in semiotics is to tour the country well into the new year. Ah well.
For real signs of marvels present and to come, catch up with Scottish Ballet, currently celebrating its 40th birthday and its move to an impressive new home in Glasgow. Balanchine's Rubies took a while to find its razzle-dazzle, but it got there by the end, thanks largely to the spirited attentions of the corps. Sophie Martin was a stand-out soloist, her flirtatious showgirl fizz never flagging.
As it turned out, we needed to save our smiling muscles for Krzysztof Pastor's In Light and Shadow, a lush and exuberant response to Bach, bouncily played by the company's own orchestra. I loved the bit where the ensemble were lit only from the knees down, thus forcing the focus on to the fiddly footwork (until heads and hands ingeniously found a way of getting into the picture). But it was William Forsythe's sublime 1998 study Workwithinwork that revealed Scottish Ballet's most compelling qualities: sensuous, strong and alert to every nuance.
Bonachela Dance Co: Corn Exchange, Brighton (01273-709709) 6 & 7 Oct and touring. Scottish Ballet: Theatre Royal, Glasgow (0870 060 6647) 8- 10 Oct and touring
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