Scottish Ballet, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

Well, has he done it? Ashley Page, Scottish Ballet's new artistic director, was hired to rescue the company. It had been in crisis since its last director left two years ago; or since the previous one left, some time before that. The chief executive announced a move to contemporary dance, then backpeddled after complaints from loyal supporters. Financial troubles led to questions in the Scottish Parliament. Dancers lost heart and left.

Page has started with a technical overhaul. He brought in new teachers, replaced almost half the dancers, spent months in rehearsal. It has worked. In his first programme, the company looked stronger and much more confident. Soloists stood out as individuals, putting real attack into a programme of contemporary dance.

That is the next question. Where is this company going? The move away from ballet caused an outcry, but Page has started with a repertory of Richard Alston, Stephen Petronio and Siobhan Davies. Can he sell that to ballet fans? The Festival Theatre was full of teenagers who looked like dance students, but can he keep this new audience without losing the old one?

The company look best in Petronio's MiddleSex Gorge, which is half athletic dance, half identity politics. The women are dressed in leotards, the men in corsets, jockstraps and sometimes flowers. The music is an overextended remix of a song by Wire. Steps are fast and aggressive, with high-kicked legs, thrust-forward pelvises, grappled partnering. The women just dance; the men stop to kiss. The dancers look energised. The audience adored it.

Alston's Dangerous Liaisons has nothing to do with the seductions of the book, play and film. Partnering and balances are complex, but it's earnest rather than dangerous. Scottish Ballet are still coming to terms with the piece. There is some tension in the partnering, but solos are clear with light jumps and attention to line. The audience was respectful, though it was not really happy.

Even more so with White Man Sleeps. Siobhan Davies's sober dances have many admirers, and I'm not one of them. She builds pieces up from a very few movement ideas - this time a gesture of palms pressed together, dancers leaving and returning to lines. The music, African Memories by Kevin Volans, is a lot more vibrant, a percussive piece with harpsichord tuned to African scale. Onstage, the dancers look polite and attentive.

It was inevitable that Page would bring in his own choreography. The company dance Cheating, Lying, Stealing rather well, but it's a mess of a piece. Couples wander in and out, labouring under purple, orange and lime green outfits.

After a long slide into technical weakness, the company are in good shape as dancers. This is Page's vital first step. He has turned Scottish Ballet around. Now they need something better to dance.

Macrobert, Sterling, 10-11 Oct (01786 466666); The Space, Dundee 17-18 Oct (01382 834934)

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