From whistles to buzzing bees, Scottish Ballet ’s October double-bill of Sibilo and Emergence delighted Glasgow. The night started with a surprise performance that wasn’t part of the original bill. Drawn To Drone was composed and choreographed by Jack Webb for Scottish Ballet’s outreach programme wherein experienced professionals mentored aspiring choreographers. It was a mesmerising solo performance by dancer Christopher Harrison. His almost imperceptibly slow, hypnotic movements gave the impression of floating in space or water and as his chair tipped backwards there was a breathtaking moment just before it succumbed to gravity and fell. The seamless choreography showcased Harrison’s strength and flexibility as he flowed into Grecian poses and impressively stretchy positions. It was a very beautiful and relaxing introduction to the evening.

Pascal Johnson and Nicholas Shoesmith in Crystal Pite’s <i>Emergence</i> © Andy Ross
Pascal Johnson and Nicholas Shoesmith in Crystal Pite’s Emergence
© Andy Ross

From the witty whistled cadenza that introduced the next piece, Sibilo (Latin for ‘whistle’), the titular theme of whistling pervaded the entire number. Choreographed by Scottish Ballet’s own Sophie Laplane, the dance started with mechanical clockwork movements and kaleidoscopic partner work. Periodically a whistle sounded and the dancers became statues, juxtaposing stillness and movement. One particularly sinister effect was created when, occasionally, a single dancer would break from the robotic group and perform a couple of sillier steps before being pulled back into the fold and reassimilated. The forceful machinelike dancing was so constricting that it was somewhat relieving when suddenly the dancers’ suit jackets were whisked up into the flies and two dancers broke into a comical mime dance, reminiscent of silent movies or vaudeville.

In the passionate lovers’ duet that followed, the whistling took a slower, more contemplative tango-like rhythm. The dancers’ bodies created beautiful shapes but, at the same time, there was something uncannily disturbing. Several times the male dancer pushed his partner’s head backwards in a show of intense domination that was uncomfortable to watch.

Mia Thompson and Constance Devernay in Sophie Laplane's <i>Sibilo</i> © Jane Hobson
Mia Thompson and Constance Devernay in Sophie Laplane's Sibilo
© Jane Hobson

Again the mounted tension was broken by another comical scene. Three dancers, two males and one female, tried to whistle a tune together, but one man had difficulties whistling, only blowing air. After an increasingly frenetic series of attempts to get him to whistle, the girl chose to leave with the other man – a delightfully funny, overconfident, shimmying fop – leaving the non-whistling dancer to hold the coats. The dance which followed, in which the dancer who couldn’t whistle finally wins the girl through his dancing provoked cheers and applause from the audience. Everyone loves an underdog!

The next duet featured two very creepy girls making heartbeat motions with their hands. With their fingers spread over their torsos where their ribcage would be and the weird angle they held their heads in accentuating their thin shoulders they looked like eerie, wide-eyed skeletons with working organs underneath.

After a final scene, where a girl danced to entice a floating empty jacket, even hugging it around herself like a person, there was a brief conclusion where each sequence briefly reprised and it was amusing to hear whistled renditions of famous classical compositions. 

Emergence, by choreographer Crystal Pite, involved the entire company of thirty-six dancers. Inspired by swarm mentality amongst insects, it was highly successful at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Beginning with a single insect emerging from a chrysalis, the dancer’s angular arm movements transported the audience to the small-scale world of tiny bugs. It was amazing how she glided on her spindly bent legs like a pond skater on water. The hive mentality really manifested when all the other dancers appeared and split into little groups, each performing their individual motions in perfect sync. Even when the dancers all swarmed together, individually they would set off little spasms resembling grasshoppers. 

Scottish Ballet Company in Crystal Pite's <i>Emergence</i> © Andy Ross
Scottish Ballet Company in Crystal Pite's Emergence
© Andy Ross

The performance’s non-dance elements enhanced the bug-like atmosphere, from percussive music that invoked pincers and wings to masks that gave the dancers an anonymous alien quality and the male dancers’ backs, painted like exoskeletons. The female dancers, on sting-like pointe shoes, made quick couru steps and swayed slightly as if floating on the breeze. The set itself, resembling a huge nest, had a tunnel that dancers ran in and out of and was often backlit with the long shadows adding to the overall mysterious effect.

The whispered counting was extremely visceral, especially when the females linked arms and advanced slowly across the stage blocking the paths of individual males who ran up to them only to have to turn back. And at the stunning climax, with all thirty-six dancers onstage in perfect unison, their whispers were so loud that they almost drowned out the music. It was thrilling.

Overall, both of the double-bill’s works prompted physical reactions from the audience. Sibelio’s mounting tension, broken up with respites of comic relief, was fantastic, while Emergence perfectly captured the unusual insectile patterns and bodies. Both were brilliant and both worth checking out if you get the opportunity.