Scottish Ballet, back at the Edinburgh International Festival for a third consecutive season, continues to go from strength to strength. Its artistic director Ashley Page has invigorated the company with his highly idiosyncratic vision. Not only has he re-invented the classics (his Sleeping Beauty is due in December), Page has opted to move beyond the predictable.
Here he turns to a pair of major New York choreographers to enhance his company's profile. Both the world premiere of Stephen Petronio's Ride the Beast and Trisha Brown's For MG: The Movie (1991) are performed in bare feet; but there is not an iota of doubt that these are ballet dancers taking brave chances with alternative ways of moving and managing with aplomb. Set to tracks by the outré rock band Radiohead, Ride the Beast is fast, but not as frenetic as is Petronio's wont. Its 13 dancers look as if they've been swept up in a jet stream.
Brown's work is a polar opposite. Bathed in golden light, it has a serene clarity that approaches meditation. Not everyone is going to love Brown's rudimentary building blocks of movement. Deceptively simple, they often look as if any of us could get up on the stage and do this. Of course that's far from the truth. This is a beautifully subtle example of stripped-bare minimalism.
It is also wonderful to have Page's own Fearful Symmetries back in the active repertory. Multi-award winning when it was premiered by the Royal Ballet in 1994, it looks as sleek as ever. John Adams's score, Antony McDonald's designs and Peter Mumford's lighting add to the overall impact.
The other company on view in Edinburgh last weekend was the Royal Ballet of Flanders in the UK premiere of William Forsythe's Impressing the Czar. Back in 1988 Forsythe found himself in an artistic cul-de-sac of his own devising. The previous season his mammoth hit for the Paris Opera Ballet, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, had finally skewed classical ballet vocabulary past its nth degree. Branching out into other modes of expression, he devised the three-act production, Impressing the Czar. For some it proved a buzz, for others it was anarchic self-indulgence where bits and bobs collide with neither rhyme nor reason.
Forsythe topped and tailed the sizzling 26-minute In the Middle ... with a cacophony of dance-theatre events that barely pay a nod to conventional choreography. That's meant to be the point, of course. We're supposed to be going off on an adventure into unknown territory. Well, I got lost. Or, to be honest, bored. If the goal is post-modernist poetics, the result is pedantic prose.
The first act, "Potemkin's Signature", is illegible. It is meant to evoke the detritus of Western civilisation. There are paintings by Velázquez, snippets of Beethoven, St Sebastian in a kilt, courtiers in elaborate 18th-century finery, a pair of wayward St Trinian's school girls and a plethora of props culled from some country-house attic.
This is followed by a mundane rendition of In the Middle..., but Flanders can't begin to compete with the edgy drive of the Paris Opera, the Royal Ballet or St Petersburg's Mariinsky (Kirov) – all of whom have helped make this piece overly familiar.
The third act opens with an excruciatingly cheesy parody of a hard-sell televised auction. Satire needs to be wittier than the thing it is making fun of – this is not. After that the evening climaxes with repetitive rudimentary regimentation All 40 members of the company – both men and women – galumph around the stage in schoolgirls' uniforms and bobbed wigs. Initially fun, it fails to sustain itself. Forsythe has created great choreography. Here he dribbles his immense talents into the sand.
With a final call at the last-chance saloon the Bolshoi Ballet waltzed out of our lives via the giddy comedy of The Bright Stream. The company's two consecutive summer seasons in London have left us drunk with pleasure. But, fair warning, the Bolshoi will not be back next year, probably not even in 2009. Since we're likely to wait until 2010 to see them again, fans will need to set up the ballet equivalent of AA meetings.
Alexei Ratmansky's fresh staging of The Bright Stream (2003) is a roundelay of disguises, misplaced flirtations and cross-dressing. It's a sparkling revision of a 1935 ballet which features a peppy score by Shostakovich. Stalin banned it. Poking fun at Soviet collectivist workers was beyond the pale.Reuse content