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Dance Scottish Dance Theatre, Dundee Rep

THIS past year - under Janet Smith's artistic direction - has wrought some really impressive changes in this company. Their number has gone from five to seven and there have been various new works that offer stimulating, constructive challenges to audiences and dancers.

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Because their history is one of hot starts, then hiccups and blind alleys, I'm reluctant to tempt providence here . . . but this current showing suggests a true and enduring breakthrough in the fortunes of Scottish Dance Theatre. For even though this is a technically demanding double bill - and each piece is stylistically different - the company respond with quiet confidence and a cleanness of execution that indicates hard work and shared commitment offstage as well as on. American choreographer Terry Beck throws down a particularly tricky gauntlet with his mainstay use of chairs in Arena (set to an edgy, thrumming string quintet by Iain Johnstone). Essentially the dancers are in constant confrontation: with the limits and hindrances occasioned by the chairs, by others, even by themselves. The opening image - three women in long, swirling gowns that cloak the hidden chairs they stand on - is stunning. With slow, small, hand movements, they test their environment - look, listen, touch, assess - before three men emerge, peel them from their robes and the tensions unfold. There's much flying over chairs, sweeping leaps, catches, expansive steps cut short but in truth, the chairs dominate overmuch, and the dance doesn't quite fight free of them sufficiently. Ghost Opera - choreographed by Pit Fong Loh to music by Tan Dun - also has echoes of searching and testing in its cunning mix of Eastern and Western movement. Again, there's a symbolic stripping away of costume but it's the dance itself that speaks of inner journeyings, character shifts, and winning through. There's a haunting, melancholy beauty - and some spooky yeowings from the music! - but a sense, too, of hope undaunted. A strange, striking piece which by its very nature (and movement) shows how far this company has come in recent months. The Scottish leg of their current tour begins in late October - worth turning out for.

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