Scottish Ballet @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Ride The Beast

choreographed by
Stephen Petronio

For MG: The Movie

choreographed by
Trisha Brown

Pennies From Heaven

choreographed by
Ashley Page
For their autumn season, Scottish Ballet has put together a bold triple bill of pieces that are as different from one another as it is possible to be.

First up is a new work by the American choreographer Stephen Petronio. Ride the Beast is an exuberant, intricate piece which blends ballet with the music of Radiohead. It sounds like an odd pairing, Thom Yorke and tutus, a thing that really shouldnt work, but Petronio a man who has previously worked with the music of Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed succeeds, because he for the most part steers clear of the better known songs and avoids being too literal in his response to the music.

The piece begins with a pair of dancers, one male, one female, in black corseted costumes moving in a jerky synchronised manner to Fitter Happier, the robo-voiced recital from OK Computer. Their dancing is rapid and robotic, but subtly so. This then leads into Creep, the bands first and still possibly their most recognisable track; it is perhaps to counter this why Petronio has chosen the rawer acoustic version of the song, the one where the scrape of guitar strings and the drawing of breath can be heard under the vocals. As Yorke emotes, a pair of female dancers in silk-winged white glide and flutter across the stage as a male dancer (with marvellously muscled, medical text book legs) Calibans around them, ducking and scuttling, nuzzling up to them and then quickly retreating. It sounds like an obvious response to that song, but it reveals itself to be richer than that, more complex.

For the remainder of Ride the Beast Petronio veers towards the bands later output, using Idiotheque and The National Anthem, both taken from Kid A. More dancers flood the stage, moving in groups of four. Throughout the piece the dancing is technically demanding and intricate, with animal undercurrents that are enhanced by the costumes, designed by Benjamin Cho. Part Soho sex shop, part menagerie, many of his creations have ribbons positioned at the small of the back in a way that brings to mind birds tails or horses manes.

The middle piece, Trisha Browns For MG: The Movie, provides a stark contrast to the firework burst of Petronios opener. While the former was all noise and energy, this is a piece of stillness and slowness. It begins with a long sequence in which a female dancer runs in circles, her pace varying. Sometimes she runs backwards, speeding up and slowing down; sometimes she pauses in her running. As she does this, a pair of dancers stands on one side of the stage, motionless, with their backs to the audience. The dancers all wear flesh-coloured body stockings and the whole piece is sepia toned, drained of colour.

The running woman is joined by more slow-moving figures bathed in soft, cinematic light; the dancers here are human machine parts, their repetitious movements set to an aural backdrop of industrial, urban noise. Occasionally a cloud of smoke rises gently behind them. The piece is, by turns, alienating and entrancing, with a later sequence, set to the sound of a trapped insect thudding against glass and a piano being tuned, which was particularly difficult and distancing. But having pushed its audience away it successfully lures them back again. Theres something about the slow-paced repetition and the sudden curious movements that is quite fascinating to watch.

The final piece, Pennies From Heaven, is the work of Scottish Ballets artistic director Ashley Page. It has nothing to do with Dennis Potter but is instead a would-be crowd-pleaser set to the music of the 1930s. The stage has been turned into a hotel lounge bar, complete with barstools and bar tender, and the dancers are suitably costumed: some are dressed in evening gowns and dinner jackets, others in trench-coats and natty suits; there is a bellhop and a cigarette girl and at one point (bizarrely) an array of men in cowboy hats and leather chaps.

This is the weakest of the three pieces. It goes on for too long and lacks the necessary lush romanticism. Though there is some humour in the way the dancers enact the lyrics, the costumes and the look of the piece end up dominating things. But though the programme loses momentum at its end, as a way of showcasing the diversity and range of the company, this autumn season can be deemed a success.

Scottish Ballet’s autumn season is touring until 11 October 2008.

For further details see:

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