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Flash Review 2, 4-9: Belonging
Tracking Broken Moments with Scottish Dance Theatre

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask

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LONDON -- Scottish Dance Theatre, Scotland's principal contemporary dance company, only visits London once a year so it was a pleasure to be able to catch this innovative and feisty company March 31 at The Place. Even more so to see works by two charismatic European choreographers, Rui Horta and Didy Veldman and one by the long term SDT associate artist, New Zealander Sean Feldman. London can be a daunting place for non-London based British companies to perform, as London audiences tend to be super critical, but this group of nine strong dancers under the artistic directorship of Janet Smith certainly held its own.

Veldman's "Track" is a raunchy piece of dance theater which tests the skills of the dancers, particularly their energy. The theme is that of 'belonging' and 'fitting in' and the restlessness that ensues in trying to achieve these aspirations. It is a busy piece, with the dancers flinging themselves into a variety of encounters in twos, threes or as a group. The choreography is anecdotal and humorous, light yet intense, making us see how absurd the process of 'being accepted' is, and to what great lengths we go to get there. Masking tape is used in abundance to mark out territories, public and private, as well as to keep others in or out. One dancer wraps her semi-naked body in tape in denial of selling her body on an imaginary street corner while standing beside two tarty characters who clearly are. Lovers and enemies meet, unrelated images flood on stage, fleeting snippets of information leave us gasping for more. There are still moments too, as when a male dancer lies down and ritualistically covers his body with candles. "Track" is refreshingly unpredictable and while challenging in its rapid relay of fragmented scenarios, brings out the best in the dancers, making them look both confident and animated and revealing them as strong technical performers. Philip Feeney's uplifting operatic music score adds color and depth to this work, making it a winner. The London audience thinks so too.

Rui Horta's duet "Broken" is an unusual piece set against a backdrop on which is projected a black and white film of what seem like millions of moving tree branches. The effect of these shifting branches is mesmerizing but creates a desolate maze-like infinitum which traps our gaze. Like Veldman's piece, "Broken" seems to be about two people who do not 'fit.' They are two misfits who meet each other in off balance, chaotic movements and touch each other but with resistance -- the female dancer contacts her male partner with her pointy elbows, hands folded up, like sticks. But one feels that this odd couple depend on each other within the hollow world that Horta evokes, as sometimes they merge into one organic whole as they twist round each other's bodies in a lift or a balance. At the end of this short, strange piece, the dancers leave the stage and we are left to contemplate a close-up of the film of branches. We get lost in their tangled chaos but I start to notice letters or human forms appearing as the branches start to resemble calligraphy. Horta writes in the program notes, "I like the audience to feel they are part of a process of questioning and not just there to sit back and be entertained." While we as an audience all have to work quite hard, we are free to see in "Broken" what we like.

A more straightforward, but equally riveting choreography is that of Sean Feldman's "Moment," an energetic game in which the dancers race to keep up with one another. Communication and connection abound in this work. The performers watch each other's every move as furtively as hawks, before pouncing into action, hasty but always in tune. The pace is fast and furious and the movement athletic and fluid, and the elegant silver costumes are glamorous and compliment the choreography. Again, the theme of "Moment" seems to relate to the other pieces in SDT's program; it's a study in keeping up with the crowd and an exploration of our competitive urges, but also a discovery of how we can be detached and still.

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