When Bronislava Nijinska, sister of the rather more remembered Vaslav Nijinsky, created work for the Ballets Russes in the early 20th century, she was considered cutting-edge. Never more so than with her signature piece Les noces (‘The Wedding’) set to Igor Stravinsky’s score of the same name. Nijinska took the Russian heritage that powered her training and reworked it for a culturally-aware European audience.
Scottish Dance Theatre, Dundee Rep *****
Almost 100 years later, much could be said for Colette Sadler, a choreographer trained in classical ballet who moved into contemporary dance, being influenced by – and influencing – dance companies across Europe. All of which is evident in RITUALIA, Sadler’s bold re-imagining of Les noces for Scottish Dance Theatre.
In 1923, the work depicted the rural marriage ceremony of Russian peasants; in 2018, we’re in far more abstract territory, yet Nijinska’s intent remains. Choreographic touches, such as the original corps de ballet often facing the audience, are echoed here. Similarly the use of braided ropes to depict hair (an important aspect of Russian wedding ritual), here threatens to engulf one dancer.
But Sadler’s vision is undeniably fresh and forward-looking, to a time when gender division and conformity has a less tenacious hold. Her movement, performed here by androgynous dancers dressed head to toe in tight bodysuits, utterly absorbing.
Scottish Dance Theatre premiered Botis Seva’s TuTuMucky in February 2017, and while the piece looked good back then, it had yet to bed in. Twelve months later, it’s fair to say the company truly owns it and acts like it paid the mortgage off years ago.
In part, that’s down to time, familiarity and repetition making you stronger. But it’s also testament to the current crop of dancers and their ability to shine in and out of a crowd. In both Sadler’s piece and Seva’s, there are times when they blend together with such homogeny, you no longer see the individual. Then one by one they burst out and show us their skill.
That is the ideal quality for TuTuMucky, a work that takes a long, hard stare at the world of ballet and its rigidity. While he was choreographing the piece, Seva set out to “disrupt and deconstruct everything we have been told as dancers”, and the constant counts and drills his tutu-clad performers deliver, before embracing more liberating forms of movement, throw up as many questions about freedom as Sadler did earlier.