Picasso And Dance, Playhouse

Loft, St Stephens, Edinburgh
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The Independent Culture

The programme for the Bordeaux Opera Ballet's British debut began in France as an evening with decors all by Picasso, but one of them, Cuadro Flamenco, didn't arrive here, perhaps because Edinburgh couldn't afford the extra Spanish-dance company needed. Instead, we got The Prodigal Son, quite outside the original theme. But who is going to complain about hearing Prokofiev's best ballet score and seeing one of Balanchine's earliest existing ballets?

This has another fine painter as its designer, Georges Rouault. Further assets are Emmanuelle Grizot's beautifully predatory playing of the Siren, and, above all, a moving account of the title role by Charles Jude, who was Nureyev's greatest protégé and now directs the Bordeaux Ballet. He is still in great form and gets every nuance of emotion right, from impetuous departure to tragic return.

Picasso's first two ballets open the bill, both rarities here, and well worth seeing, especially as they both have choreography by the unjustly neglected Massine. In Parade, to a theme by Cocteau, Picasso's designs introduced Cubism into ballet, and they had a witty, mordantly tuneful score by Satie. With its parade of circus performers trying to attract an audience, this may not be the greatest of ballets, but it's distinctive and intriguing.

Massine's own role, the Chinese conjurer, needs more bite and command than Istvan Martin gives it, but Hélène Ballon and Ludovic Dussarps give an attractively smooth flow to the acrobats, who don't actually do any acrobatics but have a long, unusual duet.

The Three-Cornered Hat is a bigger, more colourful work, with its elaborate Spanish costumes, standing out against an elegantly simplified landscape, and De Falla's impassioned score. Indeed, full marks all evening to Birmingham's Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Thomas Rosner's direction.

The company's dancers do well by the ensembles; unfortunately, the three principals don't bring off their roles so well. Eric Frédéric tries hard in acting the miller whose amorous adventures provide the story, but nothing he does has enough character. Stéphanie Roublet dances nicely as his wife, but rather too lightly, while Gregory Milan's fault as the lecherous Corregidor is exactly the opposite: overacting like mad, wearing ludicrous make-up.

The remaining work is an oddity. Serge Lifar made Icarus for himself in 1935, and only proved the relative banality of his own choreography. The rhythms are his, too, merely orchestrated by Szyfer; while Picasso's designs were an afterthought, and look it. Igor Yebra loyally does his entrechats and grands jétés in the title part, and looks beautiful in his white miniskirt - which is really all the role asks of him.

Over at St Stephen's was Deja Donne's There Where We Were, and I can't remember seeing a production with so much stillness in it. The three performers enter individually, and each in turn spends some time standing motionless at the back. Even when the action starts, there is often one, or even two, just looking on. The action revolves around the possible relationships between two people, but the couplings keep changing, and sometimes all three are involved. Attraction and repulsion alternate, or even coincide. When tense little Masako Noguchi stands behind tall, slim Teodora Popova and puts her hand on Popova's breast or hip, the gesture is received warily. Later, the man, Simone Sandroni, develops an interest in each of the women in turn.

Are they lovers or enemies? Or both? What is clear is that they are surprising themselves and each other with the intensity of their feelings. This effect is not achieved by heavy-handed acting, rather by the qualities they deliver, whether through personality or movement.

They dance so compellingly that it was a real surprise when a piano suddenly burst in, and I realised how long the dancers had been moving in silence. There is variety in movement as well as mood, developed not in conventional dance style but through steps and gestures. Hemmed in by the darkness on an empty stage, they are forced into a dangerous intimacy.

An original piece of dance theatre, by performers from Japan, Bulgaria and Italy, in a company based in the Czech Republic. All very international, and the next show in the same venue was from Barcelona. Loft is a solo conceived and performed by Toni Mira, director of Nats Nus Dansa. A strongly built man, Mira is, on this showing, a dance-actor rather than one for technical display, although he is lithe enough, and mixes a few jumps in with his more floor-based pacings, rollings and crawlings. He shows the feelings of a man alone in his room; sometimes realistically, with the aid of a chair or a biscuit packet that refuses to open, but mostly in abstract form. Mira says he wants to get rid of his body and become a two-dimensional shadow, silhouette or film projection. Actually, it is his 3D self that holds the attention, and the effect is ingenious and fascinating.