Scottish Dance Theatre – Pavlova’s Dogs quad bill – London

Rachel Lopez de la Nieta's Pavlova’s Dogs. © Andy Ross.
Rachel Lopez de la Nieta's Pavlova’s Dogs. © Andy Ross.

Scottish Dance Theatre
A Touch of Red | My Sweet Little Fur | Love Games | Pavlova’s Dogs

London, The Place
9 March 2012

After 14 years at the helm of Scottish Dance Theatre, this is Janet Smith’s swansong tour as artistic director (Fleur Darkin was announced as her successor just two days before this performance).   Smith already has her feet under the table of a new office as Principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, from where she travelled to be with her company for this annual stopover at The Place.

Smith leaves the company in a very good place.   Few dancers are as comfortable with dance theatre – and in particular the fusion of spoken text and movement – as this ensemble.   I imagine that the constant exposure of the SDT team to the acting profession through their residency at the lively Dundee Rep Theatre is both a source of inspiration and breeds the skills to speak with confidence and projection.   This evening’s programme moved from two small snippets of dance into a pair of much longer works in which the performers gave impact and dynamism to both words and steps.

Two of the three works before the interval were choreographed by company dancers.   Nicole Guarino’s ‘A Touch of Red’ was a physical “does he love me, does he not” duet for Solène Weinachter and Joan Clevillé, performed with a mix of needy physicality (Weinachter) and uneasy indifference (Clevillé).   The neat inter-action of their closely-timed sequential movement suggested that either the pair had put a lot of rehearsal into this work, or they have a well-attuned intuitive understanding of each other….or probably both!     The theme of love carried over into Clevillé’s own piece, ‘Love Games’, which began with a monologue from the seductive Weinachter curled up in a distorted recumbent pose on a rug placed front-of-stage-right.   The rug turns out also to be home for a box of corn flakes, a newspaper and a highly-polished knight’s helmet (which at some point, Weinachter wears).   It’s a refuge from love’s games, a home for lonely hearts; and it’s a clever device.   When not contained on the rug, the five performers are playing schoolground games of tag or barging each other out of the contest.   Clevillé demonstrated wit and invention in this new take on a well-worn theme.

The middle work of the first half was a solo for Jori Kerremans, choreographed by Idan Cohen, entitled ‘My Sweet Little Fur’.  At one level, it seemed the kind of choreography that might arise from a workshop aimed at developing a canine theme from human movement, although the choreographer’s intention seems to have been to capture a dialogue “between a man and the hounds residing in him”; more suggestive of werewolf, than shih tsu.  It was a piece that seemed to be made only for this dancer and Kerremans – tall and lean enough  to be the Afghan hound of the canine world, but without the mane – was exceptionally good, commanding the stage for the full 12 minutes.

The post-interval performance was occupied by Rachel Lopez de la Nieta’s ‘Pavlova’s Dogs’, a 40-minute piece that called upon eight of the company’s dancers (virtually the entire ensemble).  Smith invited Rachel to make the piece on SDT after judging the Place Prize preliminaries in 2010.  Her hilarious account of a dictatorial choreographer in ‘The Devil and the Details’ was witty dance theatre, in which text was the essential requirement, and although it didn’t make the cut for the Final, it got a commission from one of the judges!  Not a bad result.

Words are also essential to ‘Pavlova’s Dogs’ in the running core dialogue between a formal narrator and his increasingly anarchic colleague as a female quartet re-enacts their repetitive story about four sisters: the dancers’ reactions in movement perhaps a reflection of the conditioned reflexes that Pavlov’s experiments with dogs were designed to stimulate.  But, adding the ‘a’ to becoming Pavlova (who owned several dogs, by the way), ‘The Dying Swan’ music by Saint-Saëns had to make an appearance.  Greatly over-used but certainly never performed in this way and never alongside Flanagan & Allen’s wartime ditty, ‘Run Rabbit Run’ played while two guys dressed in hairy, purple bunny suits cavorted around.  Enough to make any dog salivate, I would have thought.   This was anarchic mayhem writ large but funny and always absorbing, delivered with style and great humour from excellent performers.  The match between Rachel de la Nieta and Scottish Dance Theatre is clearly a well-judged partnership.

There is a refreshing honesty and endeavour to Scottish Dance Theatre, which this programme – surely crying out to be sub-titled ‘Love & Dogs’ – showcased splendidly.

About the author

Graham Watts

Dance Writer/Critic. Member of the Critics' Circle, Chairman of the Dance Section and National Dance Awards Committee. Writes for leading dance magazines & websites - in UK, Europe, USA, Japan & cyberspace. Graham is based in London.

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