Scottish Ballet: Spring! (4 stars)

Scottish Ballet: Spring!

Nicholas Shoesmith and Rishan Benjamin in Sophie Laplane's Dextera / credit: Andy Ross

Infectious double-bill of works in celebration of Scottish Ballet's anniversary year

To celebrate the 50th birthday of Scottish Ballet, the company kicked off their anniversary year in Inverness with a refreshing brand new work. Dextera was choreographed by Sophie Laplane, a former dancer, now resident choreographer in the company. Her style is distinct, kooky and technically challenging. Dancers swap the heteronormative partnerings of ballet dance for same sex pairings, where women effortlessly lift one another, and men must unlearn their classical training of weight bearing and stability, to find delicacy and trust instead.

The flattening out of patriarchal power dynamics is just one idea that Laplane is playing around with in her 45 minute work. She's also intrigued by hands, as the title hints (Dextera is Latin for right hand). The piece starts with a red glove dropping from the ceiling and being slipped on by Barnaby Rook-Bishop who lets it lead him around the floor in a burst of tight, lithe movements. What starts out as a mischievous, puppyish pull in another direction soon becomes a more malign, possessed will, as the hand flaps about wherever it wants to go.

'Ainsi Font' – the name of a French children's rhyme about marionettes, with matching hand movements – is a piece for three dancers where two women are moved around by a leather strap on their back. Twisting and buckling like ragdolls, then rigid and brittle like shop dummies, their bodies are manipulated through various floppy angles by puppetmaster Evan Loudon.

Elsewhere in Dextera hands curve into graceful swans necks, snapping bird beaks, Thing scuttling about the floorboards in The Addams Family and a rude French hand sign, rough shorthand for 'piss off'. There's a 'Slap Dance' to finish where Laplane updates the enthusiastic moves of Bavarian folk dancers or South African gumboot dancers into her own woke, fun and funny style, following a beautiful pas de deux, 'Mea Culpa'.

For the second act, Sir Kenneth Macmillan keeps the sense of humour and momentum going with his heritage piece Elite Syncopations, first performed in 1974. Described as a 'party onstage', it's a high energy, multi-coloured tribute to American ragtime music, with a live band behind the dancers. Drawing on more classical ballet movements, it shows off the dancers' versatility. A dance skit with a physically mismatched couple is a highlight, with long legs and hunched backs folding and clashing in gauche perfection.

Tickling and whacking the season into motion with Dextera's infectious energy, Laplane's new work is a deliberate throwback to Peter Darrell's original vision when he founded Scottish Ballet. He wanted the company to be committed to creating new work, and Laplane's invention shows they are definitely in safe hands.

Reviewed at Eden Court, Inverness.

Scottish Ballet: Spring! Dextera & Elite Syncopations

Double-bill of works in celebration of Scottish Ballet's 50th anniversary year, featuring Dextera by Sophie Laplane and Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Elite Syncopations.

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