Spring! @ Festival Theatre

Image contribution:
Scottish Ballet

Dextera Choreographer: Sophie Laplane

Dextera Composer: W.A. Mozart

Elite Syncopations Choreographer: Sir Kenneth MacMillan

Elite Syncopations Music: Scott Joplin & others

How precisely does one celebrate fifty years? By not simply paying tribute to your rich tradition of ballet but by evolving, showcasing how far as a company you have come. What’s more, you celebrate by showing us what can be done with another fifty – I only hope I kick around long enough to catch it. For now, though, Scottish Ballet’s Spring sets up what is likely to be a stellar anniversary.

Beauty personified is blown across the theatre in the mesmeric movements and colours of Sophie Laplane’s Dextera, our first piece. It’s a union fit for a celebration – Mozart’s various symphonies give the Orchestra a chance to innovate, re-imagine and fuse the classic with the freshness of the troupe’s expertise. Partnered with the maestro’s music, a unique choreography sees traditional ballet stirred in with abstract expression. It tackles a trend in the ballet circle, gender is explored throughout Dextera – not only the obvious but woven into the subtle, sublime and (one day) commonplace.

Upon high, a danseur is ‘gifted’ a single red glove, though not just any red. The glove is that shade which strikes a cauldron of intense emotions. It’s a powerful tone, controlling, dangerous and yet alluring. Upon fitting, the rapid movements involved are sharp, pointed and you can feel the momentum carried into the toes. These controlling hands carry the danseuses onto the stage. Like puppets, they are poised precisely as their male counterparts instruct. We’re guided through the more traditional stances of which most will be familiar, such as the plié but also stretched into the surreal everyday objects. When suddenly – another danseur is hoisted onto the stage in a similar manner to the women. Outfitted the same, he is manoeuvred no differently to the rest of the troupe.

As Laplane’s Dextera unfolds, the symbolism of control begins to birth a hope of equality of blindness in the casting. For just as the danseur in the role of the women carries himself strikingly, so too do any of the danseuses in reverse. Almost as if these positions are achievable irrespective of gender? As they obtain the red gloves themselves, through fooling, flirting or plucking – the comedic intensity grows. An organic kaleidoscope of limbs twisting, convulsing and as dance itself, always moving.

By the triumphant end, a shower of colours erupts over a costume piece by Elin Steele, whose creation deserves merit. Just as its musical partner Mozart, the tonal changes from bleak darkness to the glimmers of hope this is a piece which Scottish Ballet are no doubt proud to launch their 50th year with.

Choreographed by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, our second piece – Elite Syncopations continues with sparkling characterization, vivid costumes, all strung together with the carnival ragtime band. Older in conception, its bold use of colours amidst jazz styled 1920s motif places it alongside Dextera marvellously.

Humour as a ballet tool is nothing new. There is, however, such a delicious Scottish twang that it could be pulled off by none other than Scottish Ballet themselves. As the chaos of Dextera unfolds, the Benny Hill chases and exits are only eclipsed by Elite Syncopations segment ‘Tall and Short’. Performed by Eve Mutso and Jamiel Laurence you will find yourself in just as much awe as you will in stitches. Crafted in a silent era fashion, the comedic dance sees play with balance, height and expectations.

Scottish Ballet’s Spring proves that they stand on a world stage of ballet. We knew this. What they prove is their innovation. Their ability to sustain freshness, all the while providing an exceptional production is what sets them apart.

Review originally published for Reviewshub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/scottish-ballet-spring-festival-theatre-edinburgh/

Rock of Ages @ The Playhouse

Video Rights:
Rock of Ages

Book: Chris D’Arienzo

Director: Nick Winston

So, let’s dust off the Jukebox musical list: Lovers? Check. Business tycoon antagonist? Check. Glam Rocks’ greatest hits? Check. A flamboyantly fabulous narrator who also doubles as a sassy sound god. You betcha’. Welcome to Rock of Ages, not the usual Jukebox musical.

Set on the glorious Sunset Strip in the late eighties – dreams are lofty for the likes of Drew and Sherrie (Luke Walsh and Jodie Steele). They meet at the famous Bourbon Room owned by Dennis (Kevin Kennedy) and his associate Lonny. True to form, they fall in love – don’t admit it to one another and make mistakes, take gambles and drift apart. All as a sex-starved misogynistic singer robs Sherrie of her early chances and an occasional goose-stepping German buys out the club. It’s quite straight forward really.

Our strutting narr-a-tor Lonny, on paper, should not work. When in reality Lucas Rush carries the character with such fine comedic timing, giving every ounce of energy and charisma that it’s impossible not to find him endearing, hilarious and a highlight of the show. His interactions with the audience break down any barrier reservations, encouraging all to rock out.

Vocally – there are little to no faults with abundant talent and admirable control from our lead performers. Most notably Zoe Birkett, playing Justice, owner of Venus ‘gentleman’s’ club. Nick Winston’s direction knows where and when to utilise Birkett. In closing numbers, we can see how staging is constructed so she delivers the final notes. Her control is sensational. Whilst sharing the stage with the likes of Steele, who herself is vastly talented, the effortless delivery Birkett offers is remarkable.

Rock of Ages breaks the fourth wall, stamps on it and later invites it onstage to take a bow. It’s balanced as both pastiche and parody to sell itself. Whilst skewering the tropes of Andrew Lloyd Sondheim, (or is that Stephen Webber?) by physically announcing its need for a romantic lead it also pays homage to the great glam rock artists from White Snake to Styx, even Phil Collins gets a brief mention. The in-house band do a stellar job supporting the singers, with dynamic choreography supplied by Winston.

Now. As the production breaks the fourth wall it draws attention to a fault many musicals suffer, glancing into the attitudes of the music industry. It treads the line with performers ‘assets’. Raunchy, red-blooded and empowering some audience members may still find the flesh on display bordering on excessive. For the intelligence of the script, it’s part of the productions lampooning as much as it glorifies. For a general crowd, it’s an oversight they can enjoy. The only flaw is that its female stars, whilst written well only come into their own quite late into Act One.

Productions of a similar ilk – take note. This is precisely how to showcase Glam Rock in all of its thrusting, dark denim glory. Rock of Ages does not angle itself to be something it cannot be, it isn’t trying to tackle intense issues of the music empire. It thrives as its own piece, separate from others it (unfairly) will be held against. Whilst other shows may ‘rock you’ Rock of Ages will rock with you.

If at some point your blood isn’t pumping, a leg isn’t itching to dance, or you aren’t laughing – chances are you’d rather spend an evening with the Guardian. From the outset the audience of Rock of Ages are slaves to the beat, surrendering themselves over from quiet theatregoers to gig-screaming fans. If you think you’ve experienced a Jukebox musical – you haven’t until you’ve lived through Rock of Ages.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/rock-of-ages-the-playhouse-edinburgh/

Production Touring:
http://www.rockofagesmusical.co.uk/tour/