Botis Seva’s TuTuMucky, created this year for Scottish Dance Theatre, is the first work the choreographer has made on a company other than Far From The Norm, the London-based dance and theatre collective he established in 2009. The half-hour piece is shadowy and muscular, and much like Seva’s 2015 offering, Reck, features blended dance styles and oblique social commentary. Here ballet is fused with hip-hop and haka-like thumping to critique the regimented culture of the ballet world. It’s part of a new double bill from SDT, a ten-dancer troupe from Dundee I hadn’t seen before but plan to start following, given the punchy performances and lively material I saw on show.
The title TuTuMucky is a kind of an onomatopoeic take on the industrial soundtrack accompanying the piece: ‘tutu’ embodies the commanding “5, 6, 7, 8!” that repeats throughout, while ‘mucky’ describes the swampy drips, clangs and trickles oozing in the background. Dressed in ragged, streaked skirts, the performers drone through the motions of a ballet class, waddling in first position and striking mechanical poses. As the work goes on, frenzied, pulsing convulsions erupt from their cores, spiralling outwards – wild gestures meant to throw the restrained overtures of classical technique into relief.
The cast brought an impressive vigour to the piece, though the jolting choreography looked trying for a few. James Southward handled it especially well, delivering knock-out slithers and slides, and Francesco Ferrari also flourished, greeting machine-gun shudders with ease. But others flagged amid the rapid pace and mercurial swerves, and by the final sequence – a throbbing group number – not everybody could keep up.
There are other kinks to be worked out: some phrases feel sprawling, at times directionless, and there’s a certain irony to slating ballet as an unfeeling genre while also using it to deepen the choreographic language on show. Still, there’s a bite to the piece, and its volatility reveals a slew of powerful shapes and deeply felt interactions between the dancers.
The bright, playful veneer of Anton Lachky’s Dreamers is a glaring contrast to Tutumucky’s dark mood, but a freakish humour undercuts the whimsy as the group explores themes of control and manipulation. Against a selection of classical numbers from Verdi, Chopin and Bach, the dancers wiggle and twist, squirm and contort as they vie for dominance. Their moves are strident, boisterous and frequently funny, toeing the line between madcap and just plain mad.
The improvisational elements in the choreography give rise to some exceptional performances. Southward and Ferrari again emerged as frontrunners, serving up witty, impulsive, intensely physical displays; the latter was especially entertaining in his turn as a maniacal drillmaster who spits gibberish and forces the others to shimmy for his amusement. These numbers, as well as the whipfast solos of the first few minutes, look like enormous fun to perform and showcase some striking muscular might.
Like TuTuMucky, Dreamers is not without its rambling phrases, and certain gags fall flat, particularly the cartoonish, contrived grimaces of one central figure. Both pieces could stand some trimming and a focus on tightening up their momentum. On the plus side, both are bold, engaging commissions – always welcome from a regional UK dance troupe.