This programme of short films by Scottish Ballet, commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival, included new dance films of new and pre-existing works which had been commissioned for previous digital seasons, all recorded under strict Covid-19 Scottish Government Guidelines and Safe Working Practices. Another pre-existing piece (Tremble, by the exciting duo of dance film directors/choreographers, Jess and Morgs) was slated to be part of the programme but – I understand, for technical reasons – did not appear. I hope to see it on another day.

<i>Catalyst</i> © Mihaela Bodlovic
Catalyst
© Mihaela Bodlovic

The programme opened with Alexander Whitley’s Prometheus and Epimetheus, a studio-based work, quickly cutting between male and female same-sex duets, respectively Barnaby Rook Bishop and Thomas Edwards and Scottish Ballet’s two Graces (Horler and Paulley). The well-lit studio was not occupied by the pairs simultaneously and there is no bodily contact in movement that suggested exercises being passed between the duos. The dancers stretch, lunge and twist to the heavy bass beats of Ash Koosha’s driving music with minimal travel from the studio’s centre (meanwhile, the camera whizzed around). It was a small dose of disciplined and pleasing, if unadventurous, dance.

The pace softened with Helen Pickett’s Trace, another duet, but for a mixed-gender couple (Claire Souet and Rimbaud Patron) performing within a rectangle lit by ground-based fluorescent tubes. The choice of costumes was starkly mismatched: Souet wore a revealing leotard akin to a one-piece swimsuit while her partner was fully-clothed. Although the work begins with the dancers at distance, it develops into a sensual partnered dance with lifts and a brief but meaningful kiss while in hold. As Rachmaninov’s piano music (Prelude in D major, Op.23 no.4) reached a crescendo, Souet retreated to watch Patron’s frenetic solo and then he repaid her rapt attention, observing her softer solo, concluding en pointe, before they resumed a gentle finale of partnered dance.

<i>Catalyst</i> © Mihaela Bodlovic
Catalyst
© Mihaela Bodlovic

The third offering in this digital gala of bite-sized dance was Sophie Laplane’s Oxymore, which reintroduced a deep pulsating bass (Circular by Susumu Yokota) as another female couple performed twitchy movements in what seemed to be a backstage store. The relentless pace of repetitive actions became infectious while the music appeared to be reverberating within the bodies of Rishan Benjamin and Anna Williams, particularly when moving in unison through the heart of the piece before resuming the process of dancing separately, together. It was the third consecutive work that managed to remain absorbing despite similar spatial limitations.  

Frontiers (by Myles Thatcher) represented a paradigm shift by taking the dance outside, beginning in the austere, brutalist spaces beneath concrete flyovers amidst Glasgow’s motorways, with quick camera cuts between solitary figures dancing solos in a cocktail of contemporary, classical and street-styled movements, performed to Callum Easter’s sparse urban sounds in Make a Move. Flickering camerawork transferred from individuals to three partnered duets and what began as a welcome interlude from consecutive studio-based duets quickly became irritating due to the proliferation of these stuttering edits, making it difficult to concentrate on anything in particular; in the absence of which I started to worry about the dancers’ exposure to vehicular gases from congested motorways!

<i>Catalyst</i> © Mihaela Bodlovic
Catalyst
© Mihaela Bodlovic

The penultimate work, Idle Eyes, returned to the studio with several performers and the twitchiness was again transferred from camera to dancers as they were initially consumed by powerful tics and pulses. Laplane’s choreography focuses on the contrasts between group unity and individuals breaking away in brief solos and duets; but although this group dynamic was refreshing it also continued both the monotonous electronica and flickering camerawork that was common to several pieces. It ended with a loud sneeze and the immediate exodus of other dancers, which seemed a neat motif for these times even if Idle Eyes was created in the year before coronavirus. 

The final work, Catalyst by Nicholas Shoesmith, began on Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre stage with a male dancer in a face mask walking against a blackout, eyes fixated on a bare lightbulb atop a pole – the endearing symbol of theatrical hope in these trying times. The piece grows into a large ensemble, all wearing identical face masks, white vests and black leggings. Optimistic, uplifting music (The Secrets of the Sky, composed by Ben Chatwin) and the power of a large unified group dance made this my pick of the programme. Perhaps, after this long absence, I was seduced by the idea of any new work taking place on a stage!   

<i>Catalyst</i> © Mihaela Bodlovic
Catalyst
© Mihaela Bodlovic

Overall, this programme contained many similar elements particularly in terms of music and structure and more versatility would have been welcome. Nonetheless, it was a pleasure to see virtually the whole company dance, and in such fine form. There were enough moments of beauty and innovation to make this a worthwhile addition to the locker of lockdown dance.

This performance was reviewed from the video live stream.

***11