Festival Dance

Scottish Ballet: My Light Shines On (online)

Four stars

A click of the mouse - and there, within fingertip reach, are the dancers of Scottish Ballet. Captured onscreen as part of the Edinburgh International Festival’s visionary, valiant showcase of streamed performances that - under the umbrella title, My Light Shines On - have transcended the limits of lockdown.

Scottish Ballet’s sequence of seven short films embraces the premiere of Catalyst (by company member Nicholas Shoesmith), alongside elements of last year’s Digital Season and newly filmed versions of pieces from the Dance Odysseys programme at EIF 2013. The mix of moods and styles highlights the technical versatility of the dancers whatever the challenges of, for instance, performing outside in the Kingston Bridge underpass (Frontiers) or rushing around as agile waiters with silver salvers of wibbly-wobbly jelly (Tremble). But something else emerges across the filmed action: the camera takes us on journeys of new perspectives, zooming in among the moving bodies with close-ups and shifting angles that we would simply never access from a static seat in the stalls or circle. There is a compelling intimacy to this - something that the Digital collaborations potently realise and Dance Odysseys (2013) explored in small spaces at Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre.

That venue’s main stage was the poignant location for Nicholas Shoesmith’s Catalyst. Poignant, because the auditorium itself was locked down and hauntingly empty... The black face masks worn by all the dancers remind us why, even as the choreography carries images of spreading contagion. It starts with a lone man under a single light but his movements are soon rippling through the punctiliously social-distanced ranks of bodies in matching white vests and black trousers. There is no physical contact. Even when dancers spread yearning arms - like birds in flight - they seem rooted to their spots. It’s a succinct, evocative vignette - a reminder too of how Scottish Ballet is retaining its spirit, its prowess, its creativity. Yes, of course, you’re left longing to see them performing live again, but as an appetiser for the future, this is an uplifting treat.