David Smith, 12 Nov
A collective experience has to be pretty amazing to trigger an absolute and immediate need to talk about it. Such was the reaction to Prelude – Skydiving From a Dream, the second collaboration between the Scottish Ensemble and the Swedish Andersson Dance that complete strangers were turning to each other at the end, bursting to share this bold, visceral and integrated performance. Glasgow’s Tramway was buzzing with exuberant excitement.
Their interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations has been seen far and wide, but Prelude – Skydiving From a Dream took everything to a higher level with enhanced production values and an audacious choice of music, spinning us into an adventure by turns beautifully serene to wildly chaotic. The result was so completely organic that the three dancers and these dynamic watchable musicians blended seamlessly, demanding the audience’s attention equally.
The programme notes were sparse: the music promised was Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, music from Lutosławski’s Prelude and Fugue for 13 solo strings and Bach’s The Art of the Fugue, but the order was not specified. Bach and Beethoven take very simple building blocks and construct astonishingly complex works, Bach calmly exploring mathematical possibilities, but Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue is more explosive, frenzied and visceral. Lutosławski’s music is disjointed, spiky yet mysterious, a perfect foil for the old classical masters and providing material for a performance of astonishing contrasts.
Choreographer Örjan Andersson (who also worked on set and lighting design) has been fascinated by the mix of professional dancers and non-dancers. It is a brave thing for classical musicians to explore different mediums, particularly something as exposing as dance, yet the Ensemble did more than simply get away with it: they embraced it with gusto. The players sported colourful clothes as if attending a glittery media party, Bente Rolandsdotter’s different textures and fabrics with sparkle dramatically catching the lights. Instruments were lightly miked, immediately freeing up the players to inhabit and move around the whole stage. In a routine all of their own, the two chairs for the cellists were deftly moved around with all the tablet music stands and Diane Clark’s double bass boasted a set of wheels.
Dramatic dancer Ida Holmlund was pixie-like in a loose shiny gold two-piece, Clyde Emmanuel Archer and Hokuto Kodama more casual in dark grey loose tops and baggy trousers. The sound of the ocean saw Archer making rippling sinewy shapes, rising to a whirling frenzy as the sound intensified. Lutosławski’s playful pizzicatos had the players huddled in a circle with dancers chasing around, sometimes catching up. The players took part in the stage movements, sometimes with instruments, sometimes without, the professional dancers blending in seamlessly. Kodama was pushed through two vertical bars of white light, hands dragging him back like a children’s nightmare. The Bach passages provided calmer moments, yet there was menace too as Holmlund tussled with the two male dancers, eventually pushing both to the ground. With the Ensemble boxed into a corner, the Lutosławski became energetic, barefooted Jonathan Morton gave a dynamic lead with both feet off the ground at times. In another vignette, two sets of players playfully hurled notes at each other as if across a six foot wall. The fluidity of the performance was strikingly beautiful.
Finally, all players and stands were arranged round the perimeter for the Beethoven with dancers centre stage like moving over a black lake. A normal performance of this difficult work suddenly became anything but as one by one the dancers turned the music stands away from the players, setting them free to wander the stage. Cellos and bass took centre position with the others moving round as if greeting each other like friends meeting on a street. Tackling this work from memory, with choreography and without eye contact on a leader is really an impossible ask, but as the intensity of the music took over the Ensemble burned with white heat as the final climax was delivered with the players in a single line across the front of the stage, a monumental heroic triumph greeted with a solid wall of cheering from a packed and delighted audience.