With touching honesty and keen articulacy, Scottish Dance Theatre presented a diverse mixed bill at The Place that contained in equal parts compelling choreography and masterful dancing. The highlight of the night was indisputably Rachel Lopez de la Nieta’s Pavlova’s Dogs, a forty-minute investigation that questions gender roles in the dance world, framed as an early psychological experiment. However, the first half of the program did not disappoint, with a solo by Israeli choreographer Idan Cohen, as well as two works created by emergent choreographers from within the company.

Emilia Giudicelli and Joan Clevillé in a set up shot for Pavlova's Dogs by Racel Lopez de la Nieta, © Andy Ross
Emilia Giudicelli and Joan Clevillé in a set up shot for Pavlova's Dogs by Racel Lopez de la Nieta,
© Andy Ross

Scottish Dance Theatre is a repertory company: they perform work by a broad range of international choreographers, so each new season promises a completely new performance experience. But this year’s programme is especially significant; this is the last season the company will be led by long-time Artistic Director Janet Smith. Her departure will bring new leadership to the company, who have thrived under her care and creativity for the past 14 years.

In the programme notes, Smith explains that what initially drew her to Rachel Lopez de la Nieta was the “wit and audacity” of her shortlisted Place Prize piece from last year. This same humour is a centrepiece to Pavlova’s Dogs, which flirts with topics like the objectification of women and men, the expected interaction between the genders, and the audience’s perception of meaning. Four women wearing dresses reminiscent of school-girl uniforms repeat a movement phrase, while dancer Toby Fitzgibbons ascribes a story to their movements, which escalates with each retelling. Meanwhile, Joan Clevillé describes the human body in scientific terms, combatting Fitzgibbons’ loud and garish storytelling. Mix in bunny ears, interesting applications of lipstick and hairy suits reminiscent of blue yetis, and you have the makings for Pavlova’s Dogs. Neither the dancers nor Lopez de la Nieta pulled any punches in this surprising work, which takes the audience on quite a ride.

Preceding this, the programme explored topics that were more conventional with methods that were less extraordinary, while still being engaging. The two pieces choreographed by SDT dancers, A Touch of Red and Love Games, both confronted human relationships in love. Both pieces were developed in a programme called Under Construction, where dancers in the company could choreograph a work, within three weeks of time. These two pieces, along with a third not performed in the London show, were chosen to be included in their tour.

A Touch of Red by Nicole Guarino opened the show, with Joan Clevillé and Solène Weinachter dancing to The Black Keys and Bon Iver. The movement was clear in depicting a relationship and the habits formed, and interesting moments came from the dancers’ use of a table and two chairs. Despite these moments of beauty the choreographic choices in A Touch of Red became, in their clarity, slightly cliché and predictable; however, the honesty and whole-heartedness of the performers helped to save the work and distinguish it from other duets with the same theme.

Love Games by Joan Clevillé was quirky and light, and featured a beautifully expressed solo performed by Solène Weinachter. The piece explores the many facets of love – and how people choose to deal with this paradoxically serious yet playful emotion. Five dancers engage with each other, alternating between childhood games like tag, and charged emotive moments. Joining them onstage was a Persian carpet, a medieval armour helmet, a box of Cornflakes, and other random materials. While the connection between these items and the meaning of the piece is slightly elusive, the whimsical nature of watching the dancers interact with these items brought lightness to it. Clevillé’s work was interesting in its ability to stay engaging, even while exploring a topic that is anything but new; this new choreographer is one to watch.

In between these two works was a solo originally created by Idan Cohen in 2007, and reset on SDT for their tour this season. My Sweet Little Fur is described in the programme notes as “a dialogue between a man and the hounds residing in him.” And there were certainly references to the hounds, and animalistic tendency. Dancer Jori Kerremans expertly blended the human with his “hound”, his smooth portrayal making tail-chasing and barking less comical and more believable. Perhaps the references to the animal could have been slightly more covert choreographically – and the howling wolves in the music were a literal reference that was unneeded to communicate the point. But ultimately, the work was beautiful in its isolation – howling and all.

Scottish Dance Theatre’s spring tour is diverse, but each piece is more engaging than the next. SDT is a group of incredibly honest and engaging performers, dancing work by exciting new international artists; this year’s bill makes for an incredibly enjoyable night.

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