A SMALL contemporary dance group set up by a former shipbuilder has become the first Scottish troupe to be invited to perform at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
The Ensemble Group kicks off a major Scottish tour at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on Saturday, with four pieces, performed by an international cast and premiering work by three major European choreographers.
Dance critics describe it as "a small company with big ideas", specialising in sexy, cutting-edge dance, based on impeccable ballet techniques. Unusually for a contemporary dance outfit, much of the work is performed en pointe.
Blau I Negre, a flamenco-inspired piece choreographed by Toni Miro from Barcelona, has been singled out for inclusion in the Royal Opera House’s season of Festival of Firsts in September. Norman Douglas, the artistic director and choreographer, said: "It is a huge honour to be asked. No other dance company from Scotland has ever performed there."
Yet growing up in Govan, Douglas never dreamed of making his name as a dancer and choreographer. Like many Glasgow boys, he wanted to become a footballer, and got as far as playing for Celtic boys and Airdrie and Partick Thistle reserves.
After failing to make the grade on the pitch, he joined the shipyards as a 15-year-old apprentice, but like Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, Douglas began to live a double life.
"I was in this disco, drunk on Pernod. There was a disco-dancing competition. I got pushed into entering and I won it. I got another half-bottle of Pernod.
"Every weekend I would travel around entering competitions and winning them. I won 500 one time, a holiday in Portugal, a holiday in Spain.
"Then somebody said to me - you have to do real dance. I went to some classes and it started taking over my life."
Morag Deyes, the artistic director of Dance Base, said: "A lot of contemporary companies tend to dumb down their choreography because the technique isn’t there. The Ensemble Group creates work which is sexy and cutting-edge, but which is also based on good technique.
"Norman Douglas is a fantastic success story, and he has created a company which is really world class."
Douglas added: "It is amazing ... from the shipyards to the Royal Opera House. Sometimes I go past where I used to work in Govan and wonder if any of the same people are there.
"I wonder if they have any idea what I am doing now," he said.