Goldberg Variations

Tramway, Glasgow

Mary Brennan


When live music supports dance, a dialogue of discovery comes alive between art forms and personnel – a dialogue that the Scottish Ensemble (SE) takes in fresh and invigorating directions with Goldberg Variations where the musicians don’t only play for Andersson Dance, they play with them, actively joining in the dance. What might sound like a gimmick is, in fact, a revelation on several levels – all of them resonating with the humanity, and humour, of Bach himself (played here in the string ensemble arrangement by Sitkovetsky) .

It opens with eleven musicians and five dancers – all informally dressed in shades of grey, silver and white – standing silently on-stage. A dancer solemnly declares ‘Variation One’ before he jitters as if an electric current of Bach’s rhythms was coursing through his limbs. Funny? Yes. But under our own skins we know how that music feels even if we can’t caper like this guy from the Swedish dance troupe.The variations follow on. Sometimes there are comments: “the sixth variation is a canon. I cannot dance to it” is droll, but shrewd. Even if choreographer Orjan Andersson has a left-field approach, he isn’t out to sabotage the Bach. When members of SE lay aside instruments and dance centre-stage, stretching and jumping, percussing on body and floor, it’s a further witness of their immersion in the music. Meanwhile the dancers have donned sparkly costumes, introduced bizarre props – porter’s trolley, anyone? – and translated shifting moods and tempi into movement that ranges from quirky to athletic to visceral and dark. Variation 30, quodlibet, was Bach’s own joke. On a stage littered with the merry bric-a-brac of the performance, Diane Clark plucks phrases on her solitary double bass: because of the dance, we’ve listened differently – please, everyone, play it again. Soon.