Richard Alston Dance Company: Final Edition – Festival Theatre

Choreography by Richard Alston

Associate choreography and restaging by Martin Lawrence

With a repertoire spanning back into the early nineties, Richard Alston Dance Company has taken the medium to tremendously respectable heights. In the face of divided funding, Alston’s company delivers one final performance in Edinburgh. We can only begin to thank the company for their time, talent and dedication to their craft – wishing nothing but hope for future endeavours.

Opening, James Muller offers a guest spot to revisit the past – while highlighting the future of dance through these young performers. With a distinctly complex piece, chosen of course by Alston, Prokofiev’s Toccata serves as a backdrop to Curtain Raiser: Evolution Dance. Testing the merits of these dancers, it is a methodically merciless piece in a quick pace, akin to the whip cracks of an old western from the Golden age of Hollywood. Big, bold and synchronised with precision, it echoes a prevalence of dance as spectacle, and while enhanced with music, lighting and costume, there is no gimmickry to hide behind.

From Stravinsky to Chopin, Electric Gypsyland to Joplin – no movement piece is complete without accomplished musical direction and composition. Luckily, Alston is privy to the exceptional talents of Johannes Brahms and pianist Jason Ridgway. Equally as gifted as any dancer, Ridgway is given pride of place on stage to further this evenings enjoyment. Bathing in the design of lighting set by Zeynep Kepeki, Charles Balfour or Lawrence, both Ridgway and dancers are cast in shades reminiscent of their respective dances tone.

Distinctly rooted in Ashkenazi tradition, Johannes Brahms’ musical composition, in arrangement with Alston’s choreography lifts the structure of Brahms Hungarian. With heavy gypsy influences, there are intense emotional shifts, notable in both composer and choreographers style, as bursts of acceleration suddenly halt. It’s a sublime piece with mischievous pacing, accentuated through Fotini Dimou’s costume, a quartet of almost seasonal gowns, floral, light but with splashes of colour to contrast the male dancers muted pinstripes.

Our finale brings an ethereal presence in closing out the company’s run. Comprising 10 individual movements set to the music of Monteverdi, how better to demonstrate versatility than with creations from a man who gave existence to a new art form? Holding their own, Joshua Harriette, Ellen Yilma and Nahum McLean take tremendous steps in ensuring this performance remain a fixture in fans of the company for years to come. Whether solo or group piece, their form is exquisite – drawing the eye with ease.

Tenderness to the final dance, Damigella Tutta Bella, the earliest piece of music Alston can remember. Embracing a circle, it’s a marvellous ending to behold, closing with something which sparked an origin.

A bitter-sweet idea to accept, all the grace, talent and wonder onstage before us is being seen for the final time in Edinburgh, or at least in its current incarnation. Alston’s close relationship with the Festival Theatre, a theatre dear to the hearts of many, aligns itself with the ideals of dance, theatre and arts for all.

In a utopian world, Richard Alston Dance Company would remain a fixture for years to come, as it is, their Final Edition is a closing act which pays tribute to movement’s evolution and a reminder that even though the Company may cease – Alston himself has little intentions of going anywhere, news we relish.

Richard Alston Dance Company: Final Edition continues to tour the UK: https://www.richardalstondance.com/

The Crucible – Scottish Ballet, Theatre Royal Glasgow

Based on the play of Arthur Miller

Choreographed by Helen Pickett

Artistic Collaboration by James Bonas

Composition by Peter Salem

A prescient message of our time, the relevance of texts to a modern audience seems to change very little – only in so far as who finds themselves the target of today’s witch-hunt. Claustrophobic, illustrating the darkness lurking beneath a community turning in on itself, Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible is an evocative ballet which has expectations to live up to following the Edinburgh International Festival.

Few companies can encapsulate the source material, while still offering a reason to adapt, quite like Scottish Ballet. What happens with Arthur Miller’s iconic play, known to drama students, writers, academics and fans across the nation is nothing short of mesmeric sorcery. The suggestion that there was witchcraft at work here is applicable, but regrettably, we’re all too aware of those repercussions. 

It is, as in any production of The Crucible, the seductive entwining of Abigail and John Proctor which foreshadows the prospect of a production’s success. To find a measure of sexual passion, only just outweighing a genuine sense of romance, delivering a pas de deux of devastating betrayal against Proctor’s wife Elizabeth. Yet, there is no sight more painful than a ballerina attempting to engage without reciprocation. No matter how hurt, how Claire Souet laces her form against Barnaby Rook-Bishop, he remains in character, a husband realising his mistakes, even as she caresses, attempting to connect.

The proverbial marriage made in heaven – choreographer Helen Picket, together with theatre director/artistic collaborator James Bonas, concoct a profound connection with facial expression, storytelling and a heart of theatre with a soul of dance. Echoing a sense of community, capturing the dread of ‘fake news’, anxiety and the ease of truth distortion, it’s a production which reminds we haven’t come as far as would desire.

Inspirational, the richness in characterisation present onstage is impressive. All too often ballet companies find themselves at the mercy of silent performers – not Scottish Ballet. How, then, does one communicate a character as stoically earthy, immovable, as Danforth or the court? With staccato manoeuvres, the trio of danseurs – particularly Rimbaud Patron, communicate such weight, despite their featherfoot movements. Their presence in Salem is clear, their motives sharp, decisive and imposing. 

Stiflingly hypnotic, the en-pointe synchronisation for such minute movements is awe-inspiring – particularly for Abigail and troupe as they feign their naivety towards Danforth. Their feet become needles, stitching the fates of those they besmirch – weaving a soft foot across a blanket of lies. Delivering a superb solo, Katlyn Addison’s Tituba counters Souet’s characterisation of the manipulative Abigail. Fragile, fluid and open – Addison is engrossing to watch, drawing grief as we come to realise her fate, her swansong elevated through Peter Salem’s score.

Rarely is it this important for the composition to maintain pace with the movement on stage, Salem has outdone previous works with the construction of The Crucible’s score. The nuances in tone, rising in waves to balance the performance is down to a fine art, with astute, shrieking rasps of the string to emulate blinding panic, to a boundless, soft-sounding sense of love, struck with lashings of regret.

Jean-Claude Picard’s conduction this evening is effective in control. Crossing a variety of genres, in an intense ménage of an almost urban tribal mash-up of ballet and street-dance. Encircling, taunting one another further – shedding their gowns as their morality, compassion escapes them, Soeut leads a dance troupe as the dancers grow in fever-pitch which is rightfully as bombastic as the score. With a graceful transition of the woodland serving as a backdrop, it stands as a stand-out of the production.

These backdrops – a combination of designers Emma Kingsbury and David Finn brilliance, range in their visage as unforgiving stone walls to the unrelating hypocritic ‘comfort’ of the church’s light. Flynn’s toying with shadow, the puppet wolves Souet and crew fantasise descending on the Proctor house are a stark, entrancing reminder of the callousness behind Abigail’s smile. Equally as inventive, Kingsbury’s costume is period-appropriate, offering significant authenticity, emphasising aspects such as Danforth’s shoulders, the restrictiveness of Reverend Hales top-piece or the flowing, effortlessly shed gowns of the girls.  

So, it is a providence the thing is out – Scottish Ballet’s the Crucible is everything you may have read, but everything more. This is a pinnacle of the companies’ 50-year celebration, a clear illustration of the talent, dedication and genius which are repaid thrice fold in appreciation, enjoyment and respect. However you seek a ticket, even if you have to dance with the devil, chances are you’ll be forgiven.

Runs at Theatre Royal Glasgow until September 28th – then touring Scotland – tickets available from Scottish Ballet: https://www.scottishballet.co.uk/event/crucible

Photo Credit – Jane Hobson

Casanova – Festival Theatre

Choreographer: Kenneth Tindall

Original Scenario: Kenneth Tindall & Ian Kelly

Decadence and debauchery: terms that readily come to mind when thoughts turn to Giacomo Casanova. For many, this image is synonymous with adultery, womanising and sexual deviance. Instead, Kenneth Tindall’s adaptation for the Northern Ballet company’s production of Casanova offers a look at the passion, pain and grandiose lifestyle behind the name.

From the ensuing prologue until the closing grand ballabile, the strength, ferocity and talent of Northern Ballet is monumental. The memoirs of Casanova are often documented as one of the most insightful references into social practices of 18th century Europe. To condense twelve volumes into two hours is commendable, it charts Casanova’s ‘fall from grace’ during his early priesthood, through Venetian court to the birth of Casanova as the entertainer, gambler, adventurer and author.

Unlike more traditional ballets, there is no female lead. Instead, the company comprises ballerinas who play pivotal roles such as the Savorgnan sisters, who have the initial hand(s) in Casanova’s corruption. Rather, Tindall and Kelly have been clever in their use of the ballerinas, Bellino and Henriette, Casanova’s two major lovers, both masquerade as men, one out of necessity, the other fear.

The success of the story of Casanova is down, primarily, to Giuliano Contadini. From the entrée, Contadini makes an impression. His physical strength and delicacy are enviable. Commendable too is Contadini’s acting ability. Following an emotive and personal pas de deux with Hannah Bateman as Henriette, in which her affair is revealed to her husband, we witness Contadini’s visceral explosion of rage. From conventional light pieces with the sisters and Henriette to a more modern influence of heavily stylised symbolism with the monks, the range of movement is expansive, Contadini and the company rising to all challenges.

This precise movement only reaches such elevated visual heights with the help of complementary lighting, score and design. Indeed, to say that Christopher Oram’s work is awe inspiring, borders on simplistic. Combined with Alastair West’s lighting, what is generated is an ever-evolving atmosphere. Skeletal gowns of all shades, drape the dancers.

Oram’s costumes, used in tandem with the lighting, further instil a sense of wonder and depth. Penetrating bursts of red assault, quite suddenly, the darkness from the Head Inquisitor, then suddenly vanish into the blackness. Madame de Pompadour’s lavishness contrasts heavily with the bound chest of Bellino. What is achieved with these dissected costumes is a paradoxical balance between the majesty of 18th Century glamour stripped back to expose the technique and artistry of the ballet beneath.

Casanova is a production devoid of fault. It is a piece of sublime art, accessible to all and one that should be re-lived and shared.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/casanova-festival-theatre-edinburgh/

Production information: https://northernballet.com/casanova

Photos Guy Farrow, Emma Kauldhar, Caroline Holden, and Justin Slee.