EDINBURGH FESTIVAL THEATRE ****
WITH the ubiquitous nature of football at the moment, it is fitting that theensemblegroup should put on a show of two halves. For although the company went into the interval with barely a goal scored, by the end of the evening they were lifting trophies.
Based in Scotland, but fielding dancers from throughout the world, theensemblegroup is a modern dance troupe on the up. The artistic director, Norman Douglas, has proved tenacious in his bid to attract quality performers and renowned choreographers. And in the space of a few short years, he has gone from staging humble duets in the Traverse to a 12-strong company playing Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre and Glasgow’s Theatre Royal.
Surprisingly, Christopher Hampson’s opener was far from a match winner. Last seen choreographing the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, he was keen to try something more experimental. And although Strict/Free featured some inspired ways to get from A to B, Hampson’s work felt bitty and disjointed. The stop-start quality of Schnittke’s score allowed for interesting staccato moves, but the extended moments of silence failed to grip in quite the same way. Douglas’s duet, Cries & Whispers, was drenched in tension and pent-up emotion, but once again, sound let the side down somewhat. Far better to let the aggression and passion of the choreography to dominate, than the artificial white noise that accompanied it.
Post-interval, the show lifted dramatically, with Cathy Marston’s exquisite Dichterliebe and Toni Mira’s life-affirming Blau I Negre. Set to Schumann’s song cycle of the same name, Marston’s piece had a light, almost pastoral feel. Following the various stages of a poet’s life, as he and his partner move through the ups and downs of romance, the work had real depth of feeling. Similarly, Mira shot straight for the heart with his study of Mediterranean life. The Barcelonan choreographer has always had a touch of genius, but more importantly he knows how to speak to an audience. Blau I Negre was uplifting and questioning; the dancers sprayed joyfully across the stage like blasts from a scattergun, then tussling wildly with some inner demon. All the while, Mira’s inspired choice of Spanish, jazz and Romany music drew us to the movement like moths to a flame.
Mira and Marston showed theensemblegroup for what it really is: a world-class company, trapped inside a small Scottish tour. Here’s hoping somebody lets them out soon.