Scottish Dance Theatre @ The Place, London

Scottish Dance Theatre’s 2009 tour sees them premiering two new works and a miniature duet.

Now a highly regarded award-winning company, it is hard to imagine that SDT was created initially in 1986 as a service to Dundee’s local community.

The company gradually began to tour further afield and won critical acclaim on a national level. In 1991 the company, then called Dundee Rep Dance Company, won the Digital Award for Dance.
Janet Smith was appointed Artistic Director in June 1997 and she is one of the most inventive, respected and established dance producers in Britain today.

This programme showed the company’s hallmark versatility, with consistently excellent performance in very varied works. The first half involved abstract dance and the second a more narrative / theatrical piece. Al the work explores different aspects of a theme of otherness; it is challenging rather than comfortable for the audience although admirably skilful on the part of both those who have created and those who perform these works.

The show opened with the duet The Long and The Short of It is performed by its creators, company member Tom Pritchard and the impressively titled Dance Agent for Change, Caroline Bowditch. One of the dancers is very tall and the other is very short and they mirror each other’s movements, as if one is an enlargement of the other. This brief piece is warm and humorous and made a good opener. Caroline’s role as Agent for Change is to create more opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in dance, but in addition to this she is also a very accomplished dancer herself as we saw in this piece.

I Thought I Heard Somebody Calling, which followed is a new work by Artistic Director Janet Smith. After a work with a theme of physical difference, this uses the idea of ‘shape shifting’ with constant shifting of the dancers between inclusion and exclusion in the group. Frequently the change is initiated by the performers pulling at each other’s stretchy costumes, which are a little reminiscent of the grungy styling of Michael Clark’s seminal work Swamp. Someone is always on the sidelines or outside of the group; sometimes the group pulls the in with warmth and welcome; sometimes it surrounds them in a hostile manner.

The group is continually coalescing, breaking and re-forming in different combinations. At one point, a female soloist stands in the spotlight and addresses an unseen listener, mainly in French. Later, a male soloist stands similarly in the spotlight but does not speak. With the suggestion of hearing unseen voices and of isolation and alienation, a theme of mental disability is hinted. This piece is more avant-garde than much of Smith’s earlier work; its continually shifting abstraction is interesting but at 39 minutes it is perhaps a little over-long.

The show closes with the more theatrical The Visitation, created for the company by Norwegian choreographer Ina Christel Johannessen and it is her first work for them. It continues the theme of ‘otherness’ and is inspired by the short stories of Bruno Shulz and the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Life size puppets skilfully made by Scottish artist Kierron Sweeney play an important part in the work, which uses ‘ five people, five shadows / ghosts and five mannequins’ who are on stage in different combinations through the work.

The opening setting is reminiscent of a Miss Haversham – like figure – who is seated in an antique wheelchair – having been confined to an institution, not in Dickens’ solitary disappointment but in suspended animation along with her entire wedding party. At one point a young woman dances the jerky movements of an epileptic fit and is ‘restrained’ by two others. After a number of scenes where the performers explore their own stories and those of the mannequins, the integration of memories or shadow material is brought to a dramatic and very satisfactory conclusion.

Further details of the regional tour of this programme are on

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