Stunning performances, an inspired choice of choreographers and a surprise film, remind us that Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT) is a company to celebrate and get very excited about. Artistic director Joan Clevillé’s effusive opening remarks about his excitement at being back at the Place and on tour again, embodied the upbeat spirit of the company. Botis Seva’s renowned anarchic and explosive TuTuMucky, followed the visually sparkly and enigmatic Amethyst by Glasgow-based choreographer Mele Broomes. The spontaneous addition of a short film made in collaboration with Shanghai International Dance Center, further demonstrated the outward looking vision and ambition of Clevillé for his company.
Amethyst, inspired by the mystical and healing properties of the purple precious stone, reflects on both the spiritual aura and the beautiful textures of the gem. Chunks of purple, glittering material, arranged in spiky mounds occupy the dimly lit stage behind Glenda Gheller who stands at a mike in a haze of purple light. As she reflects on the individual’s part in the creation of a huge, fragmented history, her digitally sampled voice vibrates in lyrical cadences somewhere between singing and talking. Her commanding presence, voice and searching gaze pull us into Amethyst’s restorative ambience. Dancers Kieran Brown and Joao Castro appear quietly, moving softly. Their liquid bodies unfurl limbs in slow sequences of popping and locking, aided by Plantainchipps’ chilled out ambient music. Together the dancers craft out a meditative space with their smooth, fluid physicality and seamless interactions. Their different bodies, costumes and movement styles, tell individual stories that are shared and celebrated in this safe, pulsing amethystine retreat. As gesture, light, sound, dance and material meet in a visually stunning web of interconnecting textures that emanate from a vital source, Broomes’s powerfully spiritual and inclusive work without borders, could not be more welcome.
In contrast TuTuMucky’s distorted, jangling aesthetic suggests a place of tension and unease. The dancers like an unruly army of warriors push back against white, dominant forms of culture – in this case ballet which is subsumed into the languages and aesthetics of hip and contemporary. Anger boils just beneath the surface and once it explodes it pushes the dancers to their limits. Sordid lighting shapes a murky space withTorben Lars Sylvest’s brooding score a suitable accompaniment. Balletic looking female dancers with scraped back hair in buns teeter across the stage their feet turned in an awkward first position. I see flashes of horror movie moments as in the dark, they seem to float just above the floor.
I notice the effort as each dancer tries to contain themselves to fit the mould – their tulle tutus a nod to the host culture they’re about to reject. The pacing of Seva’s choreography develops slowly, his pacing is brilliant, allowing tension to build and eruptions to progress gradually. Over time and from their restrained, vertical linearity the dancers dissolve into controlled bestial anarchy. No longer able or willing to contain themselves in stiff, hierarchical configurations they explode in spasms of grotesque gestures and distorted facial expressions. From rigid verticality, they embrace the horizontal, they crawl along the floor, rolling over other bodies like salacious beasts with uncontrollable desires. Forming a circle of solidarity, reclaiming their territory, they bounce in a powerful open stance, knees bent, hips gyrating. With heads, spines and pelvises thrown rebelliously out of line and clenched fists punching repeatedly into space, they let out roars from a newfound place of freedom.
The process from suppressed dancer to angry agitator is fascinating. It’s a masterpiece how the dancers manage to work with the constraints of ballet, mess it up, then incorporate fragments into the grounded, hyper expressive articulations of hip hop and contemporary. Central to the success of TuTuMucky is impressive versatility – Seva in working with a range of bodies that are different to his own company and the dancers’ skill in adapting to his challenging cocktail of movement.
The unexpected 合[Hé], directed by Joan Clevillé and Yabin Wang with dancers from SDT and the Yabin studio Shanghai, explores human relationships with nature and the environment. Filmed by the dancers on their phones in Dundee and Beijing during the summer, the film presents a shifting, stunning tapestry of contrasting landscapes. Bodies unfold and retreat in cycles of growth and decay around the five phases of Wuxing, or Fire, Water, Wood, Metal and Earth in Chinese traditional philosophy. Scottish forests, urban settings and cold northern seas are juxtaposed with Chinese lush green woods, warm lakes and wide-open desert terrain. Filmed from each dancer’s unique perspective, 合[Hé], forges connections between both geography and culture of the two countries; its impromptu contribution to the evening adds more credit to SDT’s imaginative, inclusive programming.