By Émer O’Toole, News Editor
Scottish Ballet brought its autumn season to Glasgow’s Theatre Royal last month, combining the world premiere of Helen Pickett’s The Crucible with the UK premiere of Christopher Bruce’s Ten Poems.
The production featured two uniquely contrasting performances. As a tribute to the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, the show began with the dancers performing to a recording of ten of his poems, read by Welsh actor Richard Burton. Christopher Bruce, one of Britain’s most prolific choreographers, came across a CD of Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas in his local music shop. It seems to have been a lucky find as he created Ten Poems as a result, first performed in 2009 for the German company Ballet Kiel.
With the absence of musical accompaniment (a first for Scottish ballet), the dancers seamlessly drifted from poem to poem and the lack of music was unnoticeable within minutes. In a recent interview, Bruce spoke of how adding music would have been unnecessary, he said “what hit me first before the meaning of the poetry was the musicality, the phrasing, the rhythm of it.” Thomas has been described as ‘a Welsh rock God of lyric poetry’ and the iconic poems chosen- including Fern Hill, In My Craft and Sullen Art and I See the Boys of Summer– did not disappoint. Even though Thomas’ poems are not the most action-packed, his accurate and often dark descriptions of life, lost innocence, nostalgia for childhood and death gives a compelling combination of wistful storytelling and poignant emotion.
Continuing the theme of literary adaptations, an edited version of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible made up the second half. Can you condense a four act drama which usually takes three hours to perform into a forty minute ballet? You can but it will never reach its full dramatic potential. If the production was two hours long it would have been wonderful. But Miller’s 1953 play of the witch-hunts and trials in seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, is too complex with too many families for Pickett to do justice to in such a short space of time.
While the limited time frame did put a strain on the production, the story is spun out against a backdrop of innovative staging, lighting and a film score soundtrack- including Bernard Hermann’s music from Psycho and The Devil and Daniel Webster– which creates the haunting tone of a horror film. As you would expect from Scottish Ballet, the dancers were exceptional. Principal dancer Sophie Martin plays Abigail, a maid who seduces her employer, John Proctor. She is soon discovered by his wife Elizabeth, played by the equally captivating Principal Eve Mutso. The production also features talented rising dancers, Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Lewis Landini.
Scottish Ballet should be commended for at least attempting to be innovative in an industry rife with choreographers like Matthew Bourne who are revolutionising the world of ballet. It achieved what it wanted- to shift audience expectations. As artistic director Christopher Hampson notes, it’s “a really meaty, thought provoking experience. It’s a really bold double bill.”