Scottish Ballet Dances Balanchine, Playhouse, Edinburgh

Revelations of pure beauty
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The Independent Culture

As well as recruiting hungry young dancers from around the world, Page poached talent from top contemporary companies, such as Paul Liburd (ex-Rambert) and Diana Loosmore (ex-Richard Alston), to reflect the more progressive work he is bringing in.

The company's transformation has not gone unnoticed. An invitation to perform at Edinburgh's International Festival is high praise, and proves that the company are far from a parochial concern.

Expectations may be high, but Scottish Ballet don't disappoint. This all-Balanchine programme gets off to a slightly shaky start, with a tentative Apollo, but by the time they reach the finale, Rubies, the dancers' exuberant grins are mirrored across the audience.

The standard is set from the opening of the second work, Episodes, danced to a collection of Webern's orchestral music, and never before seen in this country. Episodes has been staged only a handful of times since its creation in 1959, but dusted off from the archives here it is a revelation.

If Webern's stark serialism tends to leave you cold, then Balanchine's interpretation might make you think again. What was once heard as abstruse, arch or cynical, suddenly appears innocent, witty and inviting. Balanchine, a talented pianist, had a gift for making music three-dimensional.

Beginning with the Symphony, Op 21, four couples tweak the basic ballet vocabulary in a series of pithy phrases. They prick the floor with rhythmic pointes, executing careful placings with mathematical precision, moving in unison or in canon.

The lead couple, Sophie Martin and Adam Blyde, capture the mood perfectly in their swift, neat, measured but lyrical movements. Dressed in monochrome practice wear, stripped of tutus, stories, characters and emotional baggage, we are free to marvel at their pure lines, sublime angles and beautifully manipulated bodies.

Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op 10, consists of musical ideas distilled down to a matter of seconds, and for each accompanying choreographic miniature a single idea suffices. Tottering like tightrope walkers or circling in a string of lunging pliés, dancers Eve Mutso and Robert Doherty take on the task with conviction and humour.

Each section offers up more and more moments of physical perfection. Concerto, Op 24, sees a fine pairing of Paul Liburd and Patricia Hines in the lead, and finally, an ensemble of 16 dancers embody Webern's textured arrangement of Bach's Musical Offering. It's a shame that when Scottish Ballet embark on a short tour later this month, Episodes is the one piece they are leaving behind.

The rest of the programme sees the spotlight on a composer much better known in the ballet world. Stravinsky was a huge influence on Balanchine, and his neoclassical works in particular mirror the choreographer's approach, taking Classical poise and finesse but adding some 20th-century edge.

Stravinsky's score for Apollo is a thing of real beauty, and the ballet itself holds some of the most striking moments in the repertoire, but the dancers are yet to make this much-performed work their own and need to work on the details. Rubies, however, set to the Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, is as dazzling as the title suggests.

Playful, sprightly and virtuosic, by this final piece the dancers are visibly at ease. Eve Mutso and Claire Robertson, who looked underconfident in Apollo, are transformed in the two female leads, and unafraid to add a bit of Broadway razzmatazz.

With a little fine tuning, this could easily be a five-star performance. A genuinely exciting evening.