Scottish Ballet shows Eastern promise at Edinburgh Festival

Song of the Earth
Song of the Earth© Scottish Ballet

At the end of this show, one audience member declared: "How nice to see Scottish Ballet jump more than six inches off the ground." This is most certainly not a safe project for the national dance company to bring to 2011‘s Edinburgh International Festival.

The performance consists of two works. The world premiere of Jorma Elo's Kings 2 Ends and a 1965 Kenneth MacMillan ballet, Song of the Earth, have been placed side by side.

First on the bill was Kings 2 Ends, a piece set occasionally to silence, partly to Mozart's Violin Concerto No 1 and partly to the more contemporary music of Steve Reich's Double Sextet.  

Much is made of Jorma Elo's Finnish heritage, in particular his skating past. The dancers on the stage do often appear to be gliding rather than dancing on it.  At times, the movement on stage would not be out of place in synchronised swimming - the female dancers look dressed for a dip in the first act and I’m sure I spotted some front crawl.

Lit mainly from the wings of the stage, subtle colour changes move the piece along. There are no fancy sets or costumes. That there’s no immediately discernable story doesn’t seem to matter. The audience becomes immersed in the piece and can take from it whatever they choose.

Second up came Kenneth MacMillan's work in six songs, Song of the Earth. Picking up on this year's Eastern theme, the ballet is performed to the music which Gustav Mahler set to German translations of eighth century Chinese poetry.

Song of the Earth takes us through life in six acts, through youth to death. Unusually for the time, this ballet was choreographed to music not composed for dance and the words are sung in German by a tenor and mezzo-soprano - on this occasion, Peter Wedd and Katarina Karneaus. Whilst the songs are performed in German and the words are, therefore, unclear to the majority of this Edinburgh audience, the emotion is expressed in the dance, allowing for minimal costumes and set.

The Eastern theme is not immediately apparent but by the third song, the choreography becomes less traditionally Western and oriental flavours are picked up in the music.

A standout highlight which made the audience gasp was the performers themselves creating a sea with their bodies and rotating dancers through their rolling waves. Truly spectacular and deserving of the intakes of breath around the theatre.

Whilst on many levels these two ballets are vastly different works from separate generations of choreographers, they sit well together. The sparseness of the staging, allowing for the dancers to express emotion through choreography rather than costume, links the two making this programme feel like a well-planned evening.  Once again, the dancers of Scottish Ballet prove that they're as adept at classical ballet as they are at performing contemporary works.

Scottish Ballet perform Kings 2 Ends and Song of the Earth at The Edinburgh Playhouse as part of the Edinburgh International Festival until Sunday 28th August 2011.

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