Sophie Laplane: 'When I think of Scottish Ballet, the first word that comes to mind is creativity'
Scottish Ballet dancers in in Sophie Laplane's Dextera / credit: Andy Ross
Dancer turned choreographer tells us about her role in Scottish Ballet's 50th anniversary year and about finding inspiration in emotive music and the human hand
After spending hours each day standing on their toes, few ballet dancers are rewarded with good-looking feet. Hands, however, have a capacity for real beauty, which, it seems, is why Sophie Laplane is so fascinated by them. 'As a ballet dancer I don't have particularly nice feet, so maybe that's why I like hands so much,' she muses. 'I read a book about the way hands help the brain develop, so I'm interested in the way people use them. And I've always been fascinated by the vocabulary of hands; I speak a lot with them myself.'
Hands, and the music of Mozart, are the inspiration behind Laplane's new piece, Dextera, which will form part of Scottish Ballet's upcoming double-bill, Spring! She'll share the programme with one of the 20th century's most famous choreographers, Sir Kenneth MacMillan (and his infectiously feel-good Elite Syncopations). Not bad for a young dance-maker who only left the starting blocks in 2013.
Joining Scottish Ballet as a dancer in 2004, having trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School, Laplane found herself increasingly drawn to choreography. Commissioned by the company's artistic director, Christopher Hampson, her debut work, Oxymore lasted a brief six minutes but left audiences and critics curious for more. Encouraged by Hampson and this positive response, Laplane went on to make Maze, Sibilo and A Perfect Place, before retiring as a dancer in 2017 and stepping straight into the role of Scottish Ballet's resident choreographer.
And now, six years after she first dipped her toe in those waters, Laplane is opening the company's 50th anniversary celebration. 'Because of the anniversary, I really wanted Dextera to be celebratory,' she says. 'And when I think of Scottish Ballet, the first word that comes to mind is "creativity". So as well as using the idea of hands, I wanted to put that across and work with the dancers to embody creativity.'
A work for 20 dancers filled with unusual and dynamic partnering, Dextera will be Laplane's first experience of having her work accompanied by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra, playing a selection of works by Mozart. 'It was quite tricky for me to commit to just one composer, as I usually like to have lots of different sounds in my work,' explains Laplane. 'But I've been brought up with Mozart's music, and his work is so rich and has such a wide range of moods, from emotional and sad to much more dynamic and playful. It was the most exciting and appropriate choice for me.'
It would seem the dancers, too, are enjoying getting down to the 18th-century composer. 'It's been lovely to have that blaring out of the studio while we rehearse,' says Thomas Edwards. 'And as a dancer, the music is incredible to dance to because you're not just punching it out constantly; you go from a really high impact opening to softer music. There are lyrical moments that allow us to have a little rest before the energy builds back up.'
Edwards joined Scottish Ballet in 2013, just as Laplane was making her first piece, and has been a firm fan ever since. When the child who used to hang out with you in the playground suddenly becomes teacher, there can be issues of hierarchy and power; but not here.
'When I saw Oxymore, I remember thinking "oh my goodness, I want to be in that piece",' recalls Edwards. 'And since then, I've worked with Sophie closely on a number of her pieces, and it always felt like a natural progression. So now, with her being in charge, it still feels very natural. There was no awkwardness at the start of Dextera rehearsals, and because we all knew each other so well, she could just jump in. Sophie is one of our own, so we want her to do well and be successful; and we want audiences to fall in love with her work as much as we have.'
Along with her work at Scottish Ballet, Laplane has also been choreographing for Project Y, National Youth Ballet UK and Ballet Black among others, as well as studying for an MA in Choreography. What has she learned along the way? 'With more experience I'm becoming more efficient,' says Laplane. 'I still love details, and that's still very much a part of my work, but now I know not to spend two days on one tiny detail. I can say to myself "that will do for now, I'll come back to it later". It's about knowing that even if it's not exactly what I want just yet, I'll get there.'
Scottish Ballet: Spring!, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Thu 4–Sat 6 Apr; Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Thu 2–Sat 4 May.