Tramway, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

five stars

Many a choreographer would blench at the prospect of bringing some sixty amateurs - aged between 7 and 74 - onstage with their own professional company. Natasha Gilmore isn’t one of them, and this latest project, Wolves, is a typically bold and uplifting instance of Gilmore’s ability to engage, creatively, with a community of inter-generational unknowns.
Many professionals dancers would exit stage left at the prospect of working with children, third age oldsters and assorted bods with varying degrees of flexibility - the duty of care to these inexperienced participants means keeping a watchful eye on their dance, while performing your own. Scary and demanding? Sure - but the five members of Gilmore’s Barrowland Ballet never dodge away from that responsibility. They interact with their new partners - some of them scarcely half their size - with a lovely dash of fun, so that sequences where little ones are carried shoulder high or whirled round and round, become more than just games-play. They become emblematic of trust, astutely choreographed moments of childhood adventures - even risk - while being supported throughout by a safe pair of hands. It sounds simple, but Wolves is in fact a sophisticated jigsaw of sequences suggested by everyday life experiences, be they tinged with dark disappointments or alive with happy self-discovery.
Many a musician would demand a safe, even elevated, place on a stage where wooden crates get hefted about, lethal apples (borrowed from SnowWhite!) get hurled through the air and energetic dancers shift direction as if on impulse. Not Mairi Campbell, co-composer with Luke Sutherland of a soundscore that is a fabulous mosaic of rhythms, moods and tunes. Who’s frequently in the centre of the action? It’s Campbell - playing live on viola, and vocalising in song and in wordless spirals of evocative pitch-shifting tonalities. She’s akin to a Pied Piper - or maybe the narrator of the morality tales and fairy-stories that Gilmore drew on for inspiration.
Threaded through the choreography is a pungent strand of questioning: who told you that you couldn’t? who said you must? who - particularly in the case of women - held you back from being yourself?  The dance itself is charged with images of rebellion against conventional order, of standing up to those who - for whatever reason - exclude and discriminate against you. Gilmore’s dancers may power that dance, but every individual has a chance to be centre-stage - unafraid of any lurking wolves that enforce a straight and narrow path through the woods. Superbly life-affirming  and hugely moving – I wasn’t the only one stifling tears at the end.