From the disturbing to the comical, the beautiful to the weird, David Hughes Dance brought four very different dances to the Lemon Tree theatre in Aberdeen last Saturday. Artistic director, David Hughes, has compiled works from four different choreographers which – as the title Something Old, Something New... might suggest – hark back to pure dance roots while also glancing ahead towards the future. The production was part of the DanceLive festival, an annual celebration and showcase of contemporary dance in Scotland.

Spitfire © Richard M Findlay
Spitfire
© Richard M Findlay

The theme of old and new, which ran throughout all four performances, was most obvious in the opening number, Imploded: Une Reverie Romantique. Tanja Liedtke’s quirky tribute to the first ever non-narrative ballet, Les Sylphides, was peppered with hints of classical technique, but it would be misleading to label the work a ballet. The sports-kitted sylphs gleefully somersaulted and spasmed, popped and locked, shook and breakdanced in the moonlight to a soundtrack of electronic music, static and voiceover. If I had one criticism, it would be that the meaning of the dance was fairly unclear. If I hadn’t researched the performance ahead of time, I would probably have struggled to work out what the piece was saying. That said, the playfulness and childish curiosity of the sylphs was very endearing and light-hearted, and the dancers made the difficult choreography appear effortless.

The lyricism towards the end of the number led beautifully into David Hughes’ gorgeous solo, Adagietto. The second movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 was an ideal accompaniment for Hughes’ portrayal of St Sebastian’s alleged betrayal and consequent martyrdom. Alone on stage, Hughes danced with a chair, fusing classical ballet and lyrical contemporary into a breathtaking display of skill and beauty. Coming from a predominantly classical dance background, I was intrigued by Hughes’ arms, which were straighter than I was used to, and his feet, which had a tendency to turn inwards – an unforgivable act in classical ballet but perfectly acceptable here in this contemporary world.

The evening continued with Spitfire: an advertisement/divertissement, an affectionate commentary of the male modelling industry, bordering on parody. Choreographed by Matthew Bourne for his own company, New Adventures, Spitfire: an advertisement/divertissement is presented here under licence. Character-driven comedy is an intrinsic element of Bourne choreography, and there were no disappointments in that department. Dressed only in white underwear, the aggressively camp rivalry between four male models was hilarious, as they competed for the audience’s attention. They strutted, struck macho poses, preened themselves and eyed each other up and down cattily, while performing partner work more traditionally danced by a male-female couple. Even the bows, which occurred six times throughout the number, were pompous and grandiose, and one model even checked out another’s bottom as they sauntered off stage, much to the audience’s amusement.

The final piece, Walking Shadow, was an imagined scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth in which the titular character visits his wife before she commits suicide. Plagued by nightmarish demons in creepy marble-print rags, Lady Macbeth clung to her husband, who in turn was haunted by his own guilty conscience. The dancers didn’t hold back on their characters’ psychological trauma. Lady Macbeth slapped at her stomach several times throughout the sinister piece, and hacked at her hands with a cutting motion, invoking the lines from the source material (“out, damned spot!”), while Macbeth beat at his head with the heels of his hands. Their descent into madness was uncomfortable to watch, but I was mesmerised by the sections in which nightmarish demons and the Macbeths mirrored each one another’s movements. Macbeth’s soft eerie laugh was a perfect culmination of the grotesque scene.

Seldom have I left a theatre feeling as uneasy as I did after this performance. Overall, I enjoyed the contrast of the different numbers and the acting skill of the dancers was brilliant. It was a very entertaining evening.

****1