Dance preview: Elsa Canasta and Motion of Displacement
Scottish Ballet's autumn season opens with an exciting triple bill
Javier de Frutos’ dance career has taken him from Caracas (his birthplace) to London’s top international dance house Sadler’s Wells (where his Pet Shop Boys collaboration The Most Incredible Thing premiered in 2011) to the West End (where he nabbed an Olivier Award for choreographing a 2006 revival of Cabaret). His big, darkly fruity and hugely stylish ensemble work Elsa Canasta is one of the main attractions of Scottish Ballet’s upcoming triple bill.
Created by de Frutos for Rambert Dance Company in 2003, and staged upon a glamorous sweeping silver staircase, Elsa Canasta is a ripe, bubbling, 35-minute evocation of the peerlessly witty yet romantic songs of Cole Porter. De Frutos considers this version for Scottish Ballet ‘not a revival but a revisit, with hindsight, and completely reinvigorated by a new company.’ Referencing both Elsa Maxwell, an American socialite and gossip columnist at her zenith in the 1940s, and a complicated card game, the title is a nickname de Frutos gave to the production that just stuck. Unlike the Rambert original, this restaging sees five great Porter tunes performed live by a male singer. De Frutos explains the gender switch: ‘I thought it would be closer to the original story, which is about Cole Porter. Nick Holder, who is extraordinary, is playing a composite of Porter and me.’
Despite 20-odd years of experience, de Frutos isn’t grabbing all of the limelight. Bryan Arias is a young American dancer, formerly a member of Nederlands Dans Theater but now performing with Crystal Pite’s company Kidd Pivot. Having won the sixth Copenhagen International Choreography Competition in 2013, this Scottish Ballet commission, Motion of Displacement, marks Arias’ UK debut. Featuring a cast of ten moving to the music of Bach and John Adams, and lasting just under half an hour, Arias’ Motion of Displacement is said to explore the causes and consequences of storytelling. Arias’ inspiration was childhood memories of his mother’s journey from her native land (El Salvador) to America for love. ‘It was a journey filled with determination, conflict, struggle and fear,’ he says, ‘emotions we all face at some point in our lives. I’m just using them as a means of expression in the work.’
Born in Puerto Rico but raised in New York City, Arias regards time spent in the studio with dancers to be a case of collaboration rather than creative dictatorship. ‘We use the tools of our trade to serve one another, and become extensions of each other. It gives a feeling of me choreographing through the dancers rather than on them.’
Scottish Ballet’s mixed bill is rounded out by Maze, a new 15-minute quartet by Sophie Laplane (Laplane, and elements of Maze, featured in the video for Kathryn Joseph's recent single, 'The Bird'). A company member since 2004, the French-born dancer is thrilled to be part of a tour that’ll hit some sizable stages.
The title of the work certainly hit home during Laplane’s creation process. ‘Finding a way to link the different elements and ideas I had was a real puzzle,’ she admits. ‘Sometimes it felt as though we were in a maze, hitting dead ends and having to go back and rework our moves.’
Laplane says her dance ‘concerns the willingness of youth to take a step forward into the unknown, by trying different experiences and paths to find a way through.’ Making it has been an education. ‘I’ve learnt that it's okay not to know exactly where you're heading. You don't have to have a fixed idea about the end result. That's what makes it so exciting.’
Given the preponderance of men at the top of the British dance tree, it’s heartening to see a high-profile company giving a leg-up to a woman. ‘It would be nice to see more female choreographers,’ says Laplane, ‘but I believe things are changing and we'll see even more in the future. I'm ready to take any opportunities that come my way.’
Scottish Ballet: Elsa Canasta and Motion of Displacement, Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Thu 24–Sat 26 Sep, then touring.