Richard Burton’s voice, widely recognized as one of the greatest in English theater, brings Dylan Thomas’s poetry to life with a sonorous richness that makes you wonder why no one ever choreographed the poems before. With Ten Poems, Christopher Bruce has created a work that effectively captures the spirit of Thomas’s deeply personal words and Burton’s incantatory readings from 1954, recorded just after the poet’s death. Some of Bruce’s choices may have been a little obvious or heavy-handed, but the net effect was invigorating. The dancers of Scottish Ballet were on the mark giving the work the right tone. It certainly was the high point of the show. The piece opened with Victor Zarallo playing the poet in the opening poem, In My Craft or Sullen Art. Zarallo was strong and convincing in the role that gave the poet a presence on the stage. Fern Hill followed with Thomas Edwards playing the poet as a young man. The interplay allowed Zarallo as Thomas the older to interact with his younger self and added depth to the poem’s references to youth. Thomas’s masterpiece, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night disappointed me as I think Bruce tried too hard to mine the deep themes of the poem. It ended up being maudlin rather than fierce. My favorite setting was Lament, which was performed by Marge Hendrick and Jamiel Laurence, who were… poetic.

Eve Mutso and Jamiel Laurence in Christopher Bruce’s <i>Ten Poems</i> © Andy Ross
Eve Mutso and Jamiel Laurence in Christopher Bruce’s Ten Poems
© Andy Ross

Opening the program, the company showed off its neoclassical chops in artistic director Christopher Hampson’s Sinfonietta Giocosa. With pleasurably crisp and clear dancing, the piece showed plenty of flash. The patterns of the choreography were beautiful to look at but not terribly original to me and there was a lot of repetition. Sophie Martin and Marge Hendrick both gave especially great performances. While it was impressive technically, this ballet doesn’t break any new ground in terms of choreography and I don’t think that Hampson made the best possible use of Martinu’s music. There were thematic developments in the music that were not reflected in the choreography. It pays homage here and there to Balanchine’s black and white ballets in style and technique but misses that close attention to musical themes that distinguishes the master’s great works. Nonetheless, Sinfonietta Giocosa showed that the company is very well disciplined in classical ballet.

Sophie Martin and Victor Zarallo in Bryan Arias' <i>Motion of Displacement</i> © Andy Ross
Sophie Martin and Victor Zarallo in Bryan Arias' Motion of Displacement
© Andy Ross

Motion of Displacement, by Bryan Arias, showed off the dancers in a piece that crossed the divide between ballet and modern dance. Parts were danced on pointe in a classical style while others were delivered in a modern dance idiom. The transitions were fairly seamless and I had to remind myself that they were going back and forth. Few companies do this well. They typically fail at one discipline or the other. Sophie Martin and Araminta Wraith in particular stood out for their mastery of the modern dance elements. The ballet was evocative rather than a hard narrative that the program notes describe as exploring “the causes and effects of storytelling.” There is a lot of longing and loss in the work and the dancers did it without being histrionic, allowing the steps and the music to guide them. I particularly appreciated how well Arias understood the music and developed his dance ideas in synchrony with the musical themes. I felt a real musical intelligence at work that made the dancing completely harmonious with the music.

Jamiel Laurence and Andrew Peasgood in by Bryan Arias' <i>Motion of Displacement</i> © Andy Ross
Jamiel Laurence and Andrew Peasgood in by Bryan Arias' Motion of Displacement
© Andy Ross

Scottish Ballet certainly displayed impressive heterogeneity in its dancing. There was the great poetry of Dylan Thomas in Ten Poems, the loose, modern dance narrative of Motion of Displacement and the refined classicism of Sinfonietta Giocosa. It was a successful program that showed off the considerable range of a talented and charming troupe.

****1