Janet Smith is soon moving on from her position as Artistic Director of Scottish Dance Theatre (SDT), to become Principal of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.
For 14 years she has nurtured and cultivated this once little-known Dundee-based dance company and now leaves them, in full bloom, as major international players.
This evening they performed three pieces from their touring spring repertoire, before heading off to perform in Europe and the US.
The first piece, Lay Me Down Safe by choreographer Kate Weare, I saw as part of another triple-bill the SDT performed at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was, even second time round, both exciting and arresting.
The dancers explore the inescapable instinct of desire: at times aggressively going through the mechanical thrusting motions and guttural noises of sexual acts without emotion; other scenes are tender and sensual; at times they appeared to protect themselves from the dangers of intimacy and at others to abandon themselves to desire in sheer exuberant delight, like knowing children at play.
The second piece - Drift, by award-winning choreographer James Wilton – was, for me, the outstanding performance of the night.
Exploring loneliness and closeness and the high stakes involved in committing absolutely and completely to another, this duet between two magnificent dancers was simply stunning.
There were gravity-defying lifts and crashing falls, with the music and choreography building to a deafening crescendo that was almost frightening, showing the painful and exhilarating elements of love.
The cheering and applause at the end, with some audience members on their feet, showed that I was not alone in appreciating the impact of this thrilling dance.
The final piece, Pavlova’s Dogs choreographed by Rachel Lopez de la Nieta, was confused and disappointing. Aiming to question the presentation and perception of dance and at the same time to explore more broadly, ‘the pantomime of Life itself in a dark and humorous way’, it failed to really do either.
The vocal narrative, performed live by two of the male dancers, was the focal point here and provided any interest that was to be gained from this piece. That the two narratives competed through drawing your attention to different aspects of the dance and the dancers, thereby inviting you to question your current perception and interpretation, was an interesting starting point.
However, arriving finally at the point where: one narrator rips down his trousers before passionately embracing the other; the two men wearing bunny ears roll on the floor and the female dancers continue to dance half-heartedly until the blackout, you were left thinking – what exactly was the point?
This seemed to play for cheap laughs rather than provide food for thought about the historical role of gender in dance, as I think it was meant to do, and I spent the last ten minutes thinking, ‘please stop now or I’ll miss my bus home’.
Janet Smith should be rightly proud of her achievements at SDT and of the calibre of dancers she leaves behind. While this programme was a bit of a mixed bag, pushing the boundaries always involves an element of risk and the probability is that you win some, you lose some. This trilogy contained elements of both.
Event: 21 March