Amadeus & The Bard – National Museum of Scotland

Director & Creator – Mary McCluskey

Musical Director – Karen MacIver

Based on the works of Robert Burns and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Two champions of their time, etching a significant mark on history few can claim, Robert Burns and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived hundreds of miles apart, but an intense connection in their works ripple throughout culture. Paying homage to the pair, Scottish Opera shares a love of storytelling with these masters, bonding the pair’s verse, composition and passion with their creators and performers.

Where finer to set such a re-telling of these men’s lives than somewhere they both had a great deal of adoration for? The pub. Drinking aside, the infamous Poosie Nansie, this den of revelry, a place of familiarity to fans of Tam O’ Shanter is an excellent setting to present the works of both Wolfie and Rabbie. Taking in a few swallies, this band of merry misfits comprise a selection of Scottish Opera’s youth company, inviting you to jig, sing and join them on this journey. 

Full of vim and vigour, this zestful cast bring the likes of Don Giovanni, Jean Armour and of course, a spirit of two, to fruition with a notable Scots flair. Cementing the production with a stamp of Scottish Opera’s standards, baritone Arthur Bruce and Stephanie Stanway’s soprano role lend immense vocal prowess. Full of character, in control of their tone and range – the projection, even for a small venue, is admirable.

It isn’t as easy as one would imagine, aligning the works of these two artists. Both have notable works, singularly they spark cultural revolutions – so how can blending them maintain their original force? Luckily, thematically the pair share a great deal: in particular matters of the heart, of women and the supernatural. Never would one suspect that Rabbie’s ‘A Man’s a Man For a’ That’ work so sublimely with Mozart’s Queen of the Night? An aria which would define a genre works as a stellar foundation– it’s a pleasant thought what Karen MacIver’s musical direction could turn towards next.

The storytelling elements lacing around a freshly packed Tam O’ Shanter, its recitation to the tones of Mozart, lift the tone of the piece tremendously. Andy Clark’s storyteller may not carry the vocals of some performers, but he is paramount in the production’s success as the purveyor of tales. With an invitation to extend our imagination, Clark fuels a passionate fire for both the Bard and the composer, urging us to go into the word with a ballad, with a tune and a thirst for more.

Sitting there, accordion on her lap, fingers on the ivories and mind racing with direction – MacIver is the heart, beating beneath the chest of Amadeus and The Bard. Alongside exceptional violinist Shannon Stevenson, they are the lifeblood of the show. Together with Mary McCluskey’s vision, the pair breathe life into the memories of Robert Burns and Amadeus Mozart. McCluskey’s conception is profoundly evocative of Scottish humour, showcasing of the future of Scottish Opera in a manner which delights the people – just what Rabbie and Wolfie would have wanted.

Photo credit – Sally Jubb

Tickets available for Paisley Friday 4th October & Scottish Opera Production Studios 11th – 12th October: https://www.scottishopera.org.uk/shows/amadeus-the-bard/

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/

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/