Friday, 14 September 2012

Scottish Ballet (More from the Conference)

I'd be an idiot if I predicted whether the appointment of Christopher Hampson as artistic director is going to be a good thing for Scottish Ballet: the press conference follows the expected format, and both Hampson and chief executive Cindy Sughrue merely sketched out possible future directions. The exclusive on Bourne's Highland Fling is hot news, the projected Hansel and Gretel, and Me ticks the outreach box, Sughrue acknowledges the importance of the company as a "cultural ambassador of a country with a unique and exciting identity." But whether Hampson intends to build on Ashley Page's decision to move the company towards contemporary ballet, or retreat into a more classical programme is a question that only time, and more adventurous critics, can tell.

I'd be a liar if I claimed to know who the new choreographers Hampson has invited to "engage" with SB are, but this is the most exciting announcement. Like many critics, I am addicted to new work - although I am pleased to hear that another Kenneth MacMillan piece is being added to the repertoire. But the three woman, and one man, who are being invited have, at least, recognisable pedigrees.

Helen Pickett - "renowned for her energetic, yet poetic creations" is an ex-dancer with Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt. A quick flick through her past choreography suggests an artist interested in the connection between dance and spirituality, but not without warmth and humour. Since SB already have a Forsythe in their repertoire, her engagement in Summer 2013 continues the trend of picking up on new European dance.

Crystal Pite, straight out of Vancouver, associate choreographer with The Nederlands Dance Theatre (cool points here - NDT are probably the top contemporary ballet company IMHO) and boss of Kidd-Pivot, who are multidisciplinary - has a reputation for bringing the hip-hop to the ball, and has been winning awards all over the place.

Having adapted Forsythe's fluid movement to her own post-modern eclecticism, her work has been described as fascinated with the epic, integrating lighting to the choreography and smart and sharp. She fits well in the European contemporary strand of SB's repertoire.

James Cousins has had a work commissioned: he won Matthew Bourne's New Adventures Choreographer Award, so I can make a reasonable guess at where his work might be coming from - accessible, immediate, intelligent and witty. Since he is only 22, I can admire his youthful talent and envy his success in one thought.

That choice links up with Highland Spring and the way Ashley Page looked to England for influence (he got The Place's darling Richard Alston to do his first narrative ballet). Kristen McNally also comes up from London - she is a soloist with Royal Ballet - and has used the music of Kanye West as inspiration.

Being both idiot and liar, I'll risk stating that all of these choices are... interesting. They don't give many clues about a future direction - the last two choreographers have made too little work to be part of any clearly defined movement, although they match Scottish Ballet's previous interest in finding new talent and looking to England... Pickett and Pite make sense as contemporary ballet choreographers who push the boundaries but don't go full-tilt Dance Theatre.

Yeah, I think I see... Scottish Ballet are still into contemporary ballet, but restraining their experimentation within certain boundaries. They aren't going to suddenly let Iona Kewney have a shot, or shock audience with a burst of Bausch business. But I am feeling safe that they won't be resurrecting The Snowman, or getting too traditional...

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