Highland Fling, Sadler's Wells

Bourne's sylphs meet Scotland of 'Trainspotting'
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The Independent Culture

Matthew Bourne made Highland Fling 11 years ago, before he went on to Broadway and West End celebrity. At this revival, it looks like a trial run for Bourne's Swan Lake : these wild, sooty-eyed sylphs are very like his famous male swans. It's a lively show, but it hasn't the weight of Bourne's recent work.

Matthew Bourne made Highland Fling 11 years ago, before he went on to Broadway and West End celebrity. At this revival, it looks like a trial run for Bourne's Swan Lake : these wild, sooty-eyed sylphs are very like his famous male swans. It's a lively show, but it hasn't the weight of Bourne's recent work.

Like Swan Lake , Highland Fling is based on a 19th-century classic. La Sylphide is a romantic ballet, set in the misty Scotland of Walter Scott. Bourne updates the story to the Scotland of Trainspotting . Again, James falls for a sylph, and is lured away on his wedding day.

Bourne and his designer, Lez Brotherston, have revised the production for a larger company. The first act is modern-dress and cheeky. Bourne starts with the toilets of the Highland Fling club, the night before James's wedding to the pretty, respectable Effie. James takes drugs: his sylph is a fatal hallucination.

Dancers rush in and out, primping, taking drugs, getting into fights. Brotherston's costumes are all tartan, kilts and lurid trousers. James's flat is dottily Scottish, decorated with antlers, tartan walls, pictures of Sean Connery. When the television is left on it plays Brigadoon .

Bourne has fun with these jokes, but he has trouble stretching them to fill the music, by the Danish composer Lovenskold.

The sylph reappears, a girl in bleached, tattered Highland dress. Her hair is knotted into lumps and dreadlocks; her feet are bare and dirty. As James sleeps in his armchair, her arms sneak around his neck. Hands reach through the wall to clasp him.

When he lifts her, she leans down on his chest, her feet fluttering. She seems to be weightless, and to be forcing him on.

The second act, another hallucination, shows James in the world of the sylphs. Like Bourne's swans, they move in weighted steps, letting their breath hiss audibly. But the corps de ballet patterns don't build. Bourne doesn't seem to trust his dances: there are appearances from a soft-toy rabbit to distract us.

Bourne is better with drama than with pure dance, and Highland Fling ends vividly. As in the ballet, James wants to tame his sylph, to tie her down. The ballet hero tries to catch her with a magic scarf: Bourne's cuts her wings off, leaving her staggering, smeared with blood.

On opening night, James Leece was an exuberant James, cheerfully gormless but shocked by his own cruelty. Kerry Biggin is a light, scampering sylph. As Effie, Mikah Smillie dances with witty, naïve perkiness, then cuts through it into grief.

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