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Dance review: Scottish Ballet makes its Music Center debut

October 15, 2011 |  2:45 pm

Sophie Martin and Erik Cavallari
Scottish Ballet, which appeared for the first time at the Los Angeles Music Center this weekend, has been remade since Ashley Page took over as artistic director in 2002.

Page is a product of the Royal Ballet School and Company, and he began choreographing in the 1980s while still a principal dancer. His Scottish Ballet has raised its reputation with a repertory mix of the classical and the new. On Friday, the unifying force was the dancing -- a warmly inviting, well-placed classicism. This base is intended to support a range of contemporary and modern masterworks. It did, but only to a point; the bold statement was missing.  

For this rare U.S. tour, Page left his own works back in Glasgow. The program instead offered a recently premiered piece by “It” dance-maker Jorma Elo, resident choreographer of Boston Ballet, and a classic by 20th century giant Sir Kenneth MacMillan, a Scotsman whose “Romeo and Juliet” is his most well-represented piece in America. 

PHOTOS: Scottish Ballet at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

These two men have very different creative voices, though both find inspiration through music. (It was somewhat ironic, then, that dancers and audience had to make due with recorded music.)

For his “Kings 2 Ends,” Elo made a surprising musical pairing, Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet (the first movement) and Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 1. But then again, maybe not so unexpected: Elo’s balletic vision is all about linking movement that is unpredictable and fast, dissonant yet flowing. 

Songs of the Earth“Kings 2 Ends” was four sections of reckless rushing, shifting directions and piled-up steps. The colored lighting (designs by Jordan Tuinman) shifted without logic, and occasional silences broke momentum. Taking advantage of the company’s exceedingly tall men, Elo gave them whooshing leg kicks that lassoed space, and exploding arm windmills. Hitting marks on time and staying in unison became effortful; pulled in several ways at once, Luke Ahmet injured himself minutes before the ballet’s conclusion. The female cast members had a better time multi-tasking, and had mastered the squiggly hand gestures and waving torsos, while walking with stiff, robotic precision. 

The pulsing energy of the Reich got the blood coursing, and it suited Elo’s harried momentum. His take on the Mozart was similar, and so felt less genuine. The adagio movement, however, consisted of lovely duets that demonstrated the company’s assured partnering. The two notable couples were Sophie Martin paired with Daniel Davidson and Owen Thorne with Eve Mutso (whose quirky opening solo was another high point).

MacMillan’s “Song of the Earth,” a subtle meditation on love and death, was a rare treat; Houston Ballet is the only American company that has this 1965 piece to Gustav Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” in its repertory. MacMillan illustrated the spirit of the lyrics, taken from an 8th-century Chinese poet, with a witty spirit and sculptured bodies. It received a respectful performance that bordered on the blasé; was this the same MacMillan who reveled in human passions?

The exception was, again, Sophie Martin, a mesmerizing presence as a loner adrift in the world. Enter the equally expressive Erik Cavallari; their concluding love duet made the heart tingle. Christopher Harrison brought crispness and power in his debut as the Messenger of Death, a figure who lives among us always.  

The ballet ends with the three walking downstage, into an ever-brightening light. A hopeful conclusion to a work too little seen.


Scottish Ballet's extremes, from Kenneth MacMillan to Jorma Elo

The Scottish Ballet difference

-- Laura Bleiberg

Photos, from top: Sophie Martin and Erik Cavallari in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Song of the Earth”; Christopher Harrison, left, and Cavallari carry Martin. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.