Review: FREAGRA | A Blurred Expanse – Tramway, Glasgow

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First published in The Times, Tuesday July 5 2016

Four Stars

The new work from Edinburgh-based choreographer Rob Heaslip creeps up on its audience with cunning stealth. It opens quietly and in semi-darkness, with the dancers bunched together and entwined: they pulse as one to the beat like a human heart. As the show’s subtitle implies, it takes a while to discern quite what we’re looking at, the gender of the dancers or even the number of people onstage, but by the end of the 50-minute piece, it has become increasingly hard to resist getting caught up in its every nuance.

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Review: 5 Soldiers – Glencourse Barracks, Penicuik

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First published in The Times, Friday May 13 2016

Three Stars

On the face of it, the worlds of contemporary dance and the military make for unlikely bedfellows. Yet, for much of this three-part dance piece, the fruits of choreographer Kay and her company being embedded with a battalion, the use of movement to illuminate aspects of army life makes perfect sense.

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Review: balletLORENT’s Snow White – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Thursday January 28 2015

Four Stars

So you think you know the story of Snow White? Think again. The second in a trilogy of fairy tale adaptations by the Newcastle-based dance company balletLORENT – following Rapunzel in 2013 is notably darker than most family shows, with choreographer Liv Lorent and writer Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate, gleefully restoring the teeth and claws drawn by the likes of Disney.

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Review: Cinderella – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Thursday December 10 2015

Three Stars

 

In an early draft of the Grimms’ folk tale, the wicked stepmother tells her daughters to cut off their heels and toes in order to fit the glass slipper. It’s the stuff of which children’s nightmares are made, and a world away from the unfettered sweetness of Christopher Hampson’s Cinderella, which was originally choreographed for the Royal New Zealand Ballet and staged for the first time in the UK by Scottish Ballet.

 

Here, the stepsisters are not so much bad as misunderstood and the title character (danced by Bethany Kingsley-Garner) smiles even through the drudgery of the opening scenes.

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Review: Little Red – Tramway, Glasgow

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First published in The Times, Friday December 4 2015

Four Stars

 

There have been enough retellings and parodies of Little Red Riding Hood to nearly constitute an entire genre. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the woods, along comes this startling piece of dance theatre, created by the Glasgow-based company Barrowland Ballet, which compels its audience to look anew at the caped heroine and her lupine adversary.

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Review: Scottish Ballet Autumn Tour

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First published in The Times, Wednesday September 30 2015

Three Stars

Scottish Ballet’s autumn tour programme is a triple bill of choreographic contrasts, showcasing new talent alongside established names. Perhaps inevitably, it proves something of a mixed bag, with the lasting impression being one of engaging moments rather than unadulterated pleasure.

The surprise opener is Maze, created by company dancer Sophie Laplane, which comprises complementary male and female duets set to Nick Cave’s soundtrack to The Road as well as electro music by Minologue and Xela.

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There’s life in this old doll yet – Coppélia at Edinburgh Festival Theatre

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Published in The Times, Friday February 6 2015

Four Stars

If there are echoes of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in ETA Hoffman’s tale of an inventor who attempts to breathe life into an inanimate doll, the ballet Coppélia, created at the Paris Opera in 1870, is a determinedly light confection, full of youthful high-jinks and comic misunderstandings. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production, first staged in 1995 by Peter Wright and based on the choreography of Petipa and Cecchetti, has a playful, summery energy to match the effervescence of the Delibes’s score. And now and again it manages to find the story’s dramatic heart in amongst all the delicious froth.

The atmosphere of middle European fairy tale is beautifully evoked in Peter Farmer’s set design, which, in the opening town square scene, resembles a faded woodcut illustration, with the soloists made to appear marionette-like against a depthless landscape backdrop. Principals Elisha Willis and Joseph Caley are well matched as the bickering lovers, Swanilda and Franz. He’s a spring-heeled Jack the Lad with a mischievous twinkle in his eye; she’s forever on the front foot, whether pursuing her intended around the square or plunging without thinking into the mysterious house on the corner with the beautiful haughty girl on the terrace. The lively corps dances in this opening scene, meanwhile, move in perfect tandem with the Delibes melodies.

Like the lovers, by the end of Act One, we are desperate to get inside Dr Coppelius’s workshop, and it is in this sequence that Wright’s production comes into its own. While the movement becomes increasingly cartoon-like, with Michael O’Hare’s wonderfully nutty inventor at one point bouncing Franz around the room, repeatedly spanking the naughty youth’s bottom, the moment at which Coppelius realises that he has been duped by Swanilda into believing that his adored doll is alive, is one of piercing sadness.

We return to a string of bouncy divertissements for the final act, but if, dramatically, the ballet is anticlimactic, the strength of the characterisations in this production keeps us onside.

 

Box office: 0131 529 6000, to Feb 7; touring to Mar 28. brb.org.uk